Retired Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr.
Published with Permission
Editor’s note: The following is the speech that retired Circuit Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. prepared for delivery to World War II Nisei veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, and their families and supporters at the ninth annual Joint Memorial Service. The service was held Sept. 28 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. It is traditionally held on the Sunday closest to the date that the first Nisei soldier — Sgt. Shigeo “Joe” Takata of the 100th Battalion — was killed in action. Sgt. Takata was killed in Italy on Sept. 29, 1943, one week after the 100th entered combat. Less than an hour after later, Keichi Tanaka became the war’s second KIA.
Judge Kaulukukui graduated from Kamehameha Schools, Michigan State University and the University of Hawai‘i’s William S. Richardson School of Law. After working in private practice for several years, Gov. John Waihe‘e appointed Kaulukukui to a judgeship in the First Circuit in Honolulu. In 1993, Judge Kaulukukui retired from the bench to become vice president of community affairs for The Queen’s Health Systems. Gov. Ben Cayetano appointed Kaulukukui as an O‘ahu commissioner on the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
Kaulukukui has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including the March of Dimes, Pacific Islanders in Communication and the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, among others.
In 1998, he was appointed a trustee of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust, which was established by Hawai‘i’s last queen to care for orphan and destitute Hawaiian children. Since 2002, he has served as chairman of the board and as the trust’s managing trustee.
A sudden downpour of rain just as Judge Kaulukukui was about to speak at the memorial service prompted him to deliver an abbreviated version of his text. He began with these lines: “The heavens weep, the earth lives, and God has given us a blessing.”
After reviewing the text he had written for presentation, I decided that in this case, we should share the original version with you.
Good Morning and Aloha to all.
I am very pleased to have been invited to say a few words to honor our heroes — my heroes. I was born in 1945, so I am a member of the World War II “Baby Boomer” generation — the generation that followed and benefited from the war and postwar service of these soldiers. In February of 1942, my father, Thomas Kaulukukui Sr., became the executive officer of the Varsity Victory Volunteers, so he knew many of the Nisei whose loyal volunteer service helped to convince the President to allow them and others to serve in the U.S. military.
When I was born after the war, I had many Japanese uncles, including Uncle Ted Tsukiyama, who is present today. My dad knew of their service and sacrifices — of your service and your sacrifices — and he held all of you men and your comrades in his highest esteem. So do I.
Those of us who were born after World War II have much for which to be grateful, because the service of these men changed the nation. We all know of the discrimination against Japanese Americans in our nation’s past. These loyal citizens did not actively revolt against this unjust discrimination, for they hoped and trusted that their nation would eventually recognize these wrongs and expected that the best values of American democracy would prevail. But would that have happened without the sacrifice of the men who served in the units we remember today? I think not. They made the great sacrifices they did to ensure the nation’s liberty . . . and their own.
In this worldwide war, some of these men sacrificed their youth, their innocence and their humanity. Many were wounded, and many gave their lives. Sometimes, in order to gain something that is worth having, it is necessary to give up everything else. In their case, all gave some, and some gave all. Some of their bones lie buried in foreign fields, consecrating that sacred soil. Many must have known that they would not survive the war, like the young English soldier in Alan Seeger’s poem, who foretold his demise by declaring:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade . . .
. . . On some scarred slope of battered hill . . .
. . . At midnight in some flaming town . . .
. . . And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Our own soldiers knew what was at stake. In order to conclusively prove their patriotism, mere service — no matter how honorable — was insufficient civic currency to trade for full equality. The price for that status had to be paid by bravery and by blood, by their deaths or their willingness to die. And they paid in full. Indeed, they paid in full.
Today, we gather to remember our fallen heroes. But the death of these young soldiers imposes upon us a grave obligation, and if we fail to fulfill it, we fail them. It is our obligation to remember them and to ensure that their deaths are meaningful. Otherwise, after our deaths, they may be forgotten and their deaths may become meaningless to those who don’t remember them.
In my youth, I read a short but memorable poem by Archibald McLeish (1892-1982). I was moved by the poem then, even before I grew up and went off to fight in my own war in Vietnam. After my service, I really understood what the poet meant. The poem is entitled “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak.” I share it with you now, because it has a powerful message. It says:
The young dead soldiers do not speak,
Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.
They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.
They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.
They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say: it is you who must say this.
They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.
How are we to fulfill our obligations to them? Last year, a young sergeant, a veteran of the present war on terrorism, asked me — an older veteran — how he would be able to live a fulfilling life after the trauma of a war in which he had lost comrades who were dear to him. I suggested to him that we veterans (and others) who survive our war have an obligation to live meaningful lives to honor our comrades who never lived long enough to do so. In other words, those of us in succeeding generations are living not only for ourselves, but we are living vicariously for those who died so young. We must live praiseworthy, unselfish lives of service. By doing so, we live good lives for us and for them.
This was, and is, the example of the AJA veterans who survived World War II and continued to give service by giving it to their communities. By so doing and by living their lives in accordance with the values for which their comrades died, they gave meaning to their own lives, and to their comrades’ deaths. We must emulate their example of selfless service if we are to do right by those who died.
Now I want to say a few words to the veterans present and to their families. I speak about how veterans feel about comrades lost in war. In many cases, the exigencies of combat do not allow us the time to properly grieve and to assuage the guilt we feel about not being able to help our comrades to survive, or our guilt about surviving while others have died. Grief and guilt together are a heavy burden, like an overloaded emotional rucksack that some of us have carried for decades.
But war is as powerful a force as a natural disaster, like a hurricane. It is a phenomenon that overpowers us. No human being can control the fickle winds of fate or alter the inescapable circumstances that doom to death many a young soldier. We know that their deaths are not our fault, but our hearts cannot forgive ourselves. And unless and until our hearts can achieve some understanding and acceptance of the omnipotence of war, many of us will bear our grief and guilt to our graves So, today, I pray not only for those young dead soldiers, who, in their youth, were picked up and carried from the battlefield, but I pray also for those veterans, who, even in their later years, still carry their comrades and cannot put them down. May the good Lord lighten your load.
Now I offer some thoughts to the succeeding generations who seek to honor and preserve the legacy of these veterans and their lost comrades. You know that you must preserve and tell, and retell, their stories, so that their sacrifices will be remembered. This is because their story will not be told by them. If it is to be told at all, it must be by you. Succeeding generations must know and understand the values for which soldiers sacrificed their lives. Veterans will tell you that it’s not about they who survived. It’s about those who died. It’s all about remembering them and giving meaning to their deaths.
I know that many of you in the Sansei generation — the sons and daughters of these soldiers — are committed to fulfilling these obligations to your elders. Your commitment is commendable. I am also aware that different units have their own unique legacies and experiences and that these inspire a special sort of personal pride. I understand this.
Some years ago, I attended a national reunion of my Army unit, the 173d Airborne Brigade. I met another veteran of our unit who had served earlier in the war. He asked me when I served in Vietnam. When I answered, “1969-1970,” he wisecracked, “Oh, you arrived after the war was over!” He was bragging, for the larger battles had occurred before I arrived. I was not amused, and I told him, “The parents, families and friends of my men who were killed in action would disagree with you.” He knew what I meant, which was, “War is war, and it’s only over for those who are killed, because they don’t have to fight in it anymore.”
We didn’t have much to say to each other after that, which was a shame, because we had between us so much more that was common, rather than different.
For the sake of our own veterans, my hope is that those of you who are in the generation comprised of their sons and daughters will continue to find ways to collaborate on joint projects such as this one to advance common objectives. Indeed, such cooperative collaboration, if eventually advanced and achieved, might be the enduring legacy of your generation.
And now a word to the Yonsei generation: You, who, like Nate Gyotoku, are the grandchildren of these veterans, I urge you to become involved in these legacy projects and to fully participate to the greatest extent possible. Your creativity and youthful energy is invigorating. And, sooner than you think, it will be your responsibility to preserve the legacy and to tell our veterans’ story for future generations. Begin to pick up the torch of responsibility. After all, it is you, the youth of our state and our nation, who are the trustees of our posterity.
I have now said nearly all I have come to say. And now I ask a favor of you. In this special, sacred place, where our soldiers sleep forever beneath the blue sky and below the green grass, I ask that you join me in a moment of silence. Listen to the silence.
You know, if you listened carefully with the ears of your spirit, you might have heard the murmur of voices carried on the wind — the voices of the young, dead soldiers who say:
We were young. We have died. Remember us.