Editor’s note: Earlier this year, outgoing MIS Veterans Club of Hawaii president George Arine asked me to be the speaker at the club’s New Year’s gathering at the Natsunoya Tea House. With an issue to send to press every other week, my initial thought was to politely decline. But as the days went by, giving me time to mull over the invitation, I had a change of heart and decided to accept George’s invitation so that I could discuss a subject that had been simmering in my mind for quite a while — the perpetuation of the Nisei veterans’ legacy. The following is the text of my talk.
Aloha . . . Good Morning . . .
Thank you for inviting me to join you at your shinnen enkai, as you always do . . . and mahalo for inviting me to share some thoughts with you.
One of your MIS “sons” — Mark Matsunaga — and I have known each other from our days as students at the University of Hawai‘i. In recent years, our connection as the baby boomer children of AJA veterans who served in World War II revived our friendship.
“Ey, we gotta get together,” we always said when we happened to run into each other. So, from time to time, one of us will pick up bentö and we’ll eat lunch at my office. For some reason, we always end up talking about World War II and you guys. Not just you MIS veterans, but the 100th, 442nd and the 1399th veterans, as well . . . and what we think needs to be done to make sure that the story of your service never dies, that it lives on with future generations and is available to everyone.
One thing I’ve learned about Mark is that he gets it. I think of him as a historian without the official credentials. He reads, he studies, he thinks, he analyzes. He connects the dots. So when I mentioned once that I thought that our future lay in organizing ourselves like the descendants of the Nisei veterans on Maui, he quickly said, “That’s it.”
Back in the 1980s, I interviewed Leonard Oka, the son of a Maui 442nd veteran, who had helped to organize the Maui sons and daughters organization. Leonard said he got involved because he wanted to make sure that his son would know how his grandfather had served his country in World War II.
The Maui group decided to organize itself as the Maui Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans. Leonard explained that they were just being practical — they didn’t have enough members to form individual sons and daughters groups, so they formed one group, and agreed that they would all work together to keep alive the history and the stories of all of the Nisei soldiers.
When I met Leonard, the organization was moving full steam ahead with its plan to build a facility to honor the Nisei veterans. Alexander & Baldwin had gifted them with a parcel of land along Kahului Beach Road. Leonard drove me over to the site. There was even a sign up along the road that read: “Future Home of the Nisei Veterans Center.”
It took many years and lots of fundraising to build the center. They faced challenges along the way, including the discovery of iwi — Hawaiian burials — as they started to clear the land. The burials had to be taken care of responsibly and respectfully.
The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center opened in phases — first the preschool and adult day care facility to help sustain the center on a daily basis, and then, in 2013, the center’s heart-and-soul: its Education Center, which houses resources relating to the veterans’ experiences. Quite a few of the veterans were still healthy and mobile, so they had opportunities to gather there.
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