Sunday, March 16, 2003

A preschool serving Maui residents is scheduled to break ground in the middle of this year at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku. Center officials Hiroshi Arisumi, right, and Leonard Oka said their group is still raising money for a senior day-care facility.

Vets’ legacy inspires
Maui school

Japanese-American veterans
of WWII help raise money
to fund a day-care center

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The faces and names of the dead American soldiers of Japanese ancestry drift into his memory -- Takeshi Shigehara of Maui, Daniel Betsui of Kauai -- men in their early 20s who did not return from European battles in World War II.

For Hiroshi Arisumi, remembering the deaths of fellow soldiers is painful and he pauses several times while talking about the two men and other Japanese Americans who gave their lives for the United States, despite racial hostility against them.

Besides coming from the plantation camps in Hawaii, many Japanese-American men enlisted while they and their families were incarcerated in internment camps on the U.S. mainland, and many of them died.

"They never get to enjoy life. It's really sad," said Arisumi, 82.

To honor Japanese Americans who died in World War II, Arisumi and other veterans, including their sons and daughters, are planning to begin construction of a preschool in the middle of this year at the site of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku.

The preschool, designed to serve 15 children, is the first phase in what is to be an "intergenerational project" that includes a 42-person adult day-care center, where senior citizens have the opportunity to interact with children.

Arisumi, the center's president, said the nonprofit group leading the fund-raising has enough money to build the preschool, but is still raising $1.1 million for the adult-care facility.

The 2.2-acre property was donated by Alexander & Baldwin Inc., and the group has raised $2.8 million in government and individual donations.

Arisumi said the preschool and adult-care facility will be open to everyone in the community and include photographs and other memorabilia associated with Japanese Americans who fought in World War II.

Arisumi said project supporters, who have been raising funds for more than 10 years, decided to move forward with the first phase because they wanted the surviving Japanese American veterans to be able to see the center.

"Time is of the essence to start construction so that as many Nisei veterans as possible will be able to walk the center being built in their honor," Arisumi said.

Many of the veterans are more than 80 years old and the adult-care facility also serves a growing need in the community to help senior citizens, supporters said.

During the past 10 years, the number of people 75 and older grew by 57 percent, to 6,825 on Maui.

John Tomoso, an official with the county's office on aging, said the senior center is coming at a time when there is a shortage of programs and facilities to care for an aging population.

"Not only are people of our community living longer, but many of our seniors are living with frailties and conditions that tax our abilities to care for one another," Tomoso said.

Mayor Alan Arakawa said the community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Nisei veterans who went to war against a backdrop of racial discrimination, including the internment of Japanese-Americans.

"They fought heroically and their army unit became the most highly decorated of its size in U.S. Army history," Arakawa said.

Niseis or second-generation Japanese in America, also served as the eyes and ears in the Military Intelligence and Language Service in the war against Japan in the Pacific.

Arisumi, son of Japanese immigrants, worked as a carpenter for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. before he enlisted and became a part of the 442nd Infantry.

He was attached to the 232nd Engineers, who built bridges and cleared roads and streams of debris and land mines before the major movement of troops. Soldiers in his platoon who worked often at night were killed by snipers and artillery.

"We used to have hard time when the road needed to be cleared," he said.

He would see Jeep-loads of dead bodies coming back from the front. Shigehara, a carpenter who worked with Arisumi, was in his early 20s when he died, and the dead also included many teenage Japanese-American youths who left before graduating from high school on Maui.

Arisumi said he thought Betsui, a graduate of the University of Hawaii, had a "brilliant mind."

Arisumi said his family was more fortunate. Of the five brothers who fought in the war, all survived.

When he returned to Maui, Arisumi took a correspondence course in becoming a contractor and he and most of his brothers worked for the family building firm Arisumi Bros. Inc., a firm that has constructed thousands of homes on the Valley Isle.

Donations may be sent to the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, P.O. Box 216, Kahului 96732.

E-mail to City Desk


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