As the eldest of 10 children born to immigrants from Japan, no one would have thought badly of Hiroshi Arisumi if he had decided to remain home on Maui to help his parents rather than volunteer to fight in Europe with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. But Arisumi wouldn’t do that.
In a 2015 interview with contributing writer S. Sanae Tokumura for The Hawaii Herald, Arisumi said enlisting in the Army was the most important decision he’d ever made. And he would spend the rest of his life working to make sure that the sacrifices of those who did not come home alive are never forgotten.
The warm and gentle Hiroshi Arisumi, who always had a smile on his face, passed away March 8 on Maui at the age of 98.
I was fortunate to have known Hiroshi Arisumi as both a Nisei veteran and a fruit farmer who was also a brilliant amateur horticulturalist. In 1996, I spent a morning with him in the backyard of his two-acre Kula home, where he showed me his various fruit trees — plums, persimmons, Cherimoya, Yellow Delicious and Fuji apples — and let me taste their bounty. Later, he would mail me boxes of his plums which were the perfect combination of tart, sweet and crunchy; his kaki (persimmons), both fresh and dried; and even the not-so-good-looking cherimoya, whose taste belied its ugly exterior. As I re-read that story, it struck me that Arisumi was already talking about the effects of climate change on his fruit trees in 1996, even there in cool Upcountry Maui.
Arisumi served in Europe with the 232nd Combat Engineer Company of the 442nd RCT. He was a staunch supporter of preserving the legacy of the World War II Nisei soldiers and sharing their stories of sacrifice and service to their country.
In early 2015, he was among 18 Maui veterans to be awarded the French Legion of Honor medal from the Government of France. He told Tokumura that receiving the award brought back a flood of memories.
“In the hills above Bruyeres in October (1944), I saw a jeep trailer loaded with dead soldiers, all 442. These were all our Hawai‘i boys who died rescuing the ‘Lost Battalion.’ I’ve never seen anything that can equal the terrible things I’ve seen in war,” he said.
“When we signed up . . . no one did so lightly. Each person accepted that it was a one-way ticket.”
While overseas, he said he sent his military paycheck home to his family.
“I accepted inside myself that I wasn’t going to be coming home. You know, we were ready to die for our country to prove we were loyal Americans, but when we were there, we sure wanted to come home.”
And because he came home, and others didn’t, he dedicated his life to honoring those who did not through the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku, working for decades with his fellow veterans and across generations to raise funds for the center to educate younger generations and the public.
He served as the NVMC’s president from 1993 to 1997 and then again from 2003 until 2015. After retiring from the organization’s board of directors, he was bestowed the title of President Emeritus.
In 2010, the Government of Japan conferred upon him The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays.
Leonard Oka, who was instrumental in forming the Maui Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans in the 1980s and starting the NVMC in the early 1990s, said Hiroshi was never a flamboyant public person, “but he gave so much in his quiet and humble way.”
Arisumi was “like a second dad to me,” recalling that his own father, Clarence “Hekka” Oka, a 442nd veteran, had died just as the NVMC was getting started.
“Hiroshi was there to support me, like I know my dad would’ve through the years that it took us to complete the project. It was a long and oftentimes frustrating process,” recalled Oka in an email. “Hiroshi never grumbled. Instead, he would face each situation with the values of gaman and gambari.”
“He unselfishly gave of himself as a way to honor those whose lives were cut short in battle and were not able to come home to their own friends and families.”
Hiroshi Arisumi’s life of service to his country and community were celebrated on April 6. Two days later, he was laid to rest among his World War II buddies at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery.
Aloha ‘oe, Hiroshi . . . Until we meet again.