Karleen C. Chinen

If you happen to be driving into town along Nimitz Highway from the airport/Mäpunapuna area, you might find yourself doing a double take as you pass the area just before Ke‘ehi Lagoon. “Whoa . . . what happened to all the dried brush? What’s coming up here?” you might ask yourself.

For the longest time, just the sight of that mangled wasteland made you feel hot and sweaty, even as you sat in the comfort of your air-conditioned car. But things are a-changing there, thanks to one of ‘Hawai‘i’s foremost visionaries and entrepreneurs, Duane Kurisu. When I first heard about Kurisu’s plan to turn that Ke‘ehi Lagoon wasteland into a plantation-style village for homeless families and individuals called Kahauiki Village, I thought it was a great idea. I hoped he would succeed.

What Kurisu is working to create are affordable rental homes with all of the pride — and, yes, responsibilities — of residency. A place people can come home to after a day at work. A place to stretch out and relax. A place to raise children and visit with neighbors. A place to make plans for the future and to begin turning those plans into reality.

When I think of Kurisu’s vision for Kahauiki Village, I hear the words of the late Robert Kennedy: “I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

As you read Herald contributing writer Gregg Kakesako’s story, you’ll see that Kurisu knew Kahauiki Village would only succeed with buy-in and support — in supplies, services and sweat — from government, businesses and unions, organizations and individuals. It’s taking a village to build this village and I suspect Kurisu wouldn’t want it any other way. The vision was his, but I’m sure every person who has had a hand in the project, big or small, goes home feeling good inside. In that sense, Kahauiki Village is transforming more lives than just the homeless.

We plan to follow Kahauiki Village as it continues to take shape in the coming months.

This issue also contains thoughts on the Vietnam War, inspired in large part by the PBS series, “The Vietnam War,” by documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Contributing writer Richard Borreca looks at the legacy of Vietnam from a number of perspectives. We’re also reprising interviews from 1987 with two Vietnam veterans.

Vietnam was my generation’s war, but as I watched the series, I realized how much I didn’t know about its early history and off-camera politics.

Longtime Herald subscribers are may be familiar with the two stories I’m sharing from now-retired ABC News correspondent Ken Kashiwahara, who was born and raised on Kaua‘i. In 1986, he spoke at UH. I also interviewed him separately. As he spoke, I could visualize the experiences he shared as a correspondent in Vietnam.

As the people tried to flee the country however they could in the hours just before the fall of Saigon, Kashiwahara watched as a South Vietnamese man with his baby in his arms ran alongside the crowded bus he was on, crying out to the driver in Vietnamese, “My baby, my baby . . . take my baby.” But the man stumbled and fell and Kashiwahara watched, horror-stricken, as the wheels of the bus ran over the baby.

He also talked about how his Asian face helped him escape much of the anti-American sentiment that began building in the final weeks of the war. White Americans became the targets of attacks by the Vietnamese after the U.S. refused to provide the South Vietnamese army with any more military aid.

“So, looking the way I do, with the majority, so to speak, proved to be a benefit,” he said . . . until those final hours before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. At the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, mobs of people, American and Vietnamese, were climbing over the walls, desperately trying to get on American helicopters that were ferrying people out to ships offshore so they could flee the country.

“As we pushed our way through the crowd, I saw American Marines on top of the walls, kicking the Vietnamese who were trying to climb over . . . As I saw the Americans boots being shoved into Asian faces, I thought looking the way I do had finally caught up with me. I panicked, trying to think of some way of letting those Marines up there know that I was an American. In my frantic state of mind, I made a snap decision. If, as I reached for the Marine, I saw him giving me the boot instead of a helping hand, I would yell as loudly as I could: ‘The Dodgers won the pennant.’” Fortunately, he got the helping hand and passage out of Vietnam.


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