Hawai‘i Uchinanchu Will Help Two World War II Prisoners of War from Okinawa Find Peace
Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Hawai‘i Uchinanchu (people of Okinawa ancestry) have always demonstrated their “brotherly love” in many ways, says Clara Goto . . . even by befriending prisoners of war from Okinawa who were incarcerated in Hawai‘i in the closing months of World War II.
They shared bentö lunches, fruits, snacks, even cigarettes, with them. One family even invited several of them into their Waipahu home for lunch. For most local Okinawans, it was a chance to, hopefully, learn the fate of relatives in Okinawa following the devastating Battle of Okinawa, or to connect with relatives or with people from their ancestral villages in the homeland. For the POWs, it was the opportunity to speak their native language with people who had ties to their homeland and, hopefully, to meet family members who had immigrated to Hawai‘i and/or their families.
In 1981, after returning to his home in Kadena, Okinawa, after a trip to Hawai‘i, former POW Hikoshi Toguchi wrote to the Hawaii United Okinawa Association: “Hawai‘i is a very special place for me and a place I consider in my heart as my second home . . . . That was where I began to consider the true meaning of life in earnest. Eventually, Hawai‘i became the place of awakening the true natural way of living as a human being for me. You all aided my life.”
This weekend, Toguchi, now 90 years old, and fellow POW Saneyoshi Furugen, 87, will lead a 72-member delegation of POW relatives, Okinawa Vice Gov. Isho Urasaki and other interested Okinawans to Hawai‘i. Toguchi and Furugen are believed to be the last surviving Okinawans who were held in Hawai‘i as World War II prisoners of war. Upon arriving in Honolulu on June 2, they will meet with local Uchinanchu families who befriended the POWs. On Sunday, June 4, they will visit several sites that were part of the Okinawan POWs’ experience, attend a Buddhist memorial service and join a dinner reception.
The plight of the POWs was bleak, noted Hawaii United Okinawa Association executive director Jane Serikaku at a May 9 news conference. “They did not know what their life was going to be like. But with the encouragement of the local Okinawans who came to the camps, it was their saving grace.”
Some 8,489 Japanese soldiers and Okinawan conscripts and civilians were held in 13 prisoner of war camps at Sand Island, Honouliuli, Schofield Barracks and Fort Hase in Käne‘ohe on O‘ahu, and in Hilo and Kïlauea Military Camp on the Big Island, according to former University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu anthropology professor Dr. Suzanne Falgout. The camps also held Italian and German POWs. The Honouliuli Internment and Prisoner of War Camp, built in March 1943 in a gulch west of Waipahu, was the largest site, with more than 4,000 POWs imprisoned there. Some of the POWs were assigned to non-military labor details, which allowed them to work in the civilian community, even removing barbed wire fences that had been erected early in the war to defend the island against a Japanese invasion.