The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center is tucked away on the remnant of a sand dune, right above where Lower Main becomes Kahului Beach Road. I kept promising myself to go visit it but never managing to until yesterday (4.21.22).
Center’s Director Deidre Tegarden says she hears that a lot. Folks – especially those who are not Japanese – have a feeling that the center is mainly for the Japanese community. But despite having a mission that is centered on the local Japanese experience during the World War II, and in particularly celebrating the valor of the famedNisei Veterans, the general public is wholeheartedly invited to visit.
My wife and I were certainly welcomed in and got to check out the Center’s current presentation.
For the uninitiated “Nisei” means second generation, and stands to the Hawaii-born Japanese-American young men who volunteered to serve their country, and formed the renowned all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and later the 442 Regimental Combat Team. They took on the German Army in some of the toughest fighting of the war, and forever won the respect of the nation in the process.
The current presentation was not about the fighting in Europe. Instead it focused on one of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, the internment of whole Japanese communities despite many being citizens.
The Maui internment story focused on members of the local Japanese community – mainly community leaders: business owners, Buddhist priests, doctors, teachers. Most were jailed in a detention center in Haiku – not far from my home, and later were sent to the mainland as “prisoners of war.” Hawaii was generally sparred the mass internment West Coast Japanese endured.
As we reviewed the short stories of some of those who were imprisoned for being Japanese, we started seeing names of families we know: the Hanzawas of Kaupakalua, the Ohatas of Paia, the Koikes of Kahului. That made the internment and the injustice feel more real, closer to home.
We were hosted by my old County colleague Allen Shishido. It was good to see him again,
My wife was particularly taken by the paintings of the young soldiers – made from WWII era photos by artist KirkKurokawa – on the cement wall at the entrance of the center. There those young warriors of yesteryears live on, thanks to the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center.