Members of Anuenue Canoe Club paddle off of Magic Island with the cremains of donors to the Willed Body Program this past April 8. (Photo courtesy JABSOM)
Members of Anuenue Canoe Club paddle off of Magic Island with the cremains of donors to the Willed Body Program this past April 8. (Photo courtesy JABSOM)

Kevin Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

When World War II veteran Bernard S. Akamine died of pancreatic cancer on April 2, 2012, at the age of 89, there was no question what he wanted to happen to his body. For years prior to his death, Akamine, a 100th Infantry Battalion, Company B veteran, had made it clear that he wished to donate his body to the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, commonly referred to as JABSOM, to be used for medical education and research as part of the Willed Body Program. The program allows Hawai‘i residents to donate their bodies to help medical students, resident physicians and others learn about human anatomy and health.

“Back in 1988, a good family friend passed away, and he had donated his body (to the Willed Body Program),” explained Akamine’s daughter, Drusilla Tanaka. “And so Dad was very curious about this.” Akamine decided that he, too, wanted to donate his body to this program, so Tanaka helped him fill out the necessary forms to get the process started.

Akamine took the commitment seriously. He made sure that his family members and every doctor he saw knew his wishes. “He knew that his body would be put to good use,” Tanaka said.

Anatomy is the study of the structure and function of the human body and is considered one of the most important courses in the health care curriculum. “The study of anatomy comes early in the medical curriculum,” states the JABSOM website, “and serves as the foundation for other courses. In addition, physicians in residency training and those in practice often pursue special courses in anatomy to enhance their skills and learn new techniques.”

By studying the bodies of donors, medical students and researchers can improve their knowledge and skills so they can help their patients still living. As such, body donations are essential in providing a first-rate medical education.

Tanaka said her father was a lifelong admirer of John A. Burns, Hawai‘i’s governor from 1962 to 1974 and for whom the UH medical school is named. Burns is legendary among many Americans of Japanese ancestry in Hawai‘i, especially those of Akamine’s generation, because of the pivotal role he played in Hawai‘i’s Democratic political and social “revolution,” which improved the quality of life and social status of many Hawai‘i residents. It is well known that Burns, in turn, held a special place in his heart for the 100th and 442nd veterans, who selflessly sacrificed their lives fighting injustice at home and abroad.

To read the full coverage of this heartfelt story, and in Bernard Akamine’s legacy “For Continuing Service” please subscribe to The Herald!

For more information on the Willed Body Program, call (808) 692-1445 or email A website with detailed information and forms can be visited at

Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.


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