Kauai’s WWII Veterans Honored

Jiro Yukimura, 92, left; and Turk Tokita, 92, chat with audience members after their presentation at the Kauai Museum and autograph copies of "Kauai Stories" in which their stories about their World War II are included.

Jiro Yukimura, 92, left; and Turk Tokita, 92, chat with audience members after their presentation at the Kauai Museum.

Kauai is home to many veterans who have served our country in United States military actions. Most notable are members of the famed 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised almost exclusively of young Japanese Americans born in Hawaii who fought in Europe in World War II, and Kauai-born Japanese American men who served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), translating captured Japanese documents for the U.S. government during the war. These Kauai men fought for their country, the United States, against Japan, the country of their parents’ birth.

I had the honor of moderating a talk given this week by two of these men, both now 92 years young, bright-eyed, sharp-witted and as sweet of heart as any Kauai people I know. They recalled their wartime experiences with gravity, grace and honor and a touch of humor to a standing-room-only crowd at the Kauai Museum, where audience members treated them with the reverence and the warmth for which Kauai people are known.

Jiro Yukimura told of joining the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan in 1941 and being assigned to guard places on Oahu with a 1903 Springfield rifle.

“After about two months we all got assembled at a school, and they said, ‘All you Japanese guys, you’re out.’ They said they cannot trust those of us of Japanese ancestry. We all cried. They classified us as 4C: Enemy Alien. We were considered enemy alien? My God, that was a big blow. So we all went home. What else could we do?”

Not willing to give up in their efforts to help their country, Yukimura and his friends joined the “Varsity Victory Volunteers,” digging ditches, quarrying rocks and surfacing roads.

One year later, the U.S. Army realized it needed more manpower and began reaching out to Japanese Americans to serve, hoping for 1,500 men from Hawaii. More than 10,000 Japanese American men volunteered.

“We were so anxious to get in. We thought of ourselves as Americans,” Yukimura said.

After training, when the opportunity came to join the Military Intelligence Service, Yukimura applied, passed the Japanese language tests, and served in Australia and the Philippines, among other places. By the end of the war, the MIS was credited with translating 20 million pages of Japanese documents.

Yukimura was eventually made an officer and assigned to the Army’s Public Relations office where, as fortune would have it, he was given front row seats aboard the USS Missouri to watch Japan’s ceremonial surrender in 1945 to end the war.

Turk Tokita fought overseas in France and Italy, where he was wounded twice, earning both of his Purple Hearts. During his training in the southern United States and during his service abroad, he witnessed many inequities among human beings: impoverished Caucasians being treated poorly; African Americans being denied seats on buses when the “Blacks Only” seats were filled, even though there were other empty seats aboard; and American-born Japanese people deemed untrustworthy solely because of their ethnicity, incarcerated in internment camps across the country.

“They were supposed to be Americans, and they were being treated like they were slaves or something. They didn’t have the same opportunities,” Tokita said.

A shy young man, Tokita took it all in, but it wasn’t until he got home to Kauai after the war that he knew he could make a difference. He became Kauai campaign manager for John A. Burns, who became Hawaii’s delegate to Congress and helped Hawaii become a state, joining the United States in 1959. Burns became Hawaii’s second governor and Tokita was his Kauai campaign manager for all of his terms.

Tokita continued his career in politics, serving as Kauai campaign manager for three more Hawaii governors.

“Before the war, I was an introvert. If you knew me before the war, you’d think, ‘What a wimp he was.’ Tokita says. “Because of politics, I became an extrovert. I helped with statehood and became involved in all kinds of things for a better life for everybody.”

Read more about these two Kauai World War II veterans and two of their colleagues in “Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island told by Kauai’s People,” a joy-filled book about life on Kauai available at more than 20 locations on Kauai and also on Amazon.com. Visit www.kauaistories.net for more information.

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