An exhibit charts the Kauai
native's life from childhood
to his service as Army chief
Nearly four decades ago, the gold buttons on the gray tunic of cadet Eric Shinseki shone brightly as he stood at attention on the plains of West Point.
Today, they shine even more brightly among the memorabilia and photographs honoring the country's highest-ranking Japanese American in the Shinseki Gallery, the newest addition to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii at Fort DeRussy. The museum, located on the outskirts of Waikiki in what was once a coast artillery fort, chronicles the military history of Hawaii from King Kamehameha through World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Included in the Shinseki Gallery is a well-worn cowboy glove of a 7-year-old child who grew up on Kauai loving horses.
Forty-five years later, "Ric" Shinseki would sit tall in the saddle as he took command of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood in Texas.
On Tuesday, the Army will unveil an exhibit honoring Shinseki, who was born on the Garden Isle and rose to become the first Japanese American to wear four stars and serve as the uniformed leader of the U.S. Army as its chief of staff.
Retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Fred Weyan, who served in the same position as Shinseki from 1974-76, said Shinseki personifies "the best in the American people and their Army. He is an all-American story."
The exhibit traces Shinseki's career from his achievements at Kauai High School, where he excelled as a student athlete and leader, through his career at West Point, Vietnam, and the various European commands he has held during his 10 years there. Also launched on Tuesday will be a biography of Shinseki written by Richard Halloran, former Star-Bulletin editorial page editor and New York Times reporter who has also authored a biography of the late U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga.
Retired Maj. Gen. Herbert Wolff, president of the Hawaii Army Museum Society, said after Shinseki became chief of staff of the Army in 1999 his organization decided "to establish the Shinseki Gallery in Battery Randolph to portray a worthy model for the school children and the cadets of the Reserve Officers Training Corps who regularly visit the museum."
John McLaughlin, museum director, said the gallery holds numerous personal items, such as the West Point uniform Shinseki wore during his junior year as well as plaques and other honors Shinseki collected during his 43 years in uniform.
The exhibit draws from the experiences of Shinseki, his family members, close friends, and Army colleagues quoted in Halloran's 67-page book, "My Name is Shinseki ... and I am a Soldier." There is a black and white photo of Shinseki during his senior year when he participated in an exchange program with Hurtendon Central High School in New Jersey. "They were surprised ... that I could use a fork and knife and that we all spoke English," Shinseki recalled.
In 1960 at the state Hi-Y Model Legislature, Shinseki was elected youth governor and at the same time served as student body president at Kauai High School.
Shinseki graduated from West Point in 1965 and earned a master's degree in English literature from Duke University. During the Vietnam War he received two Purple Hearts and lost a portion of his foot and earned four Bronze Star medals.
McLaughlin said Shinseki served his first tour in Vietnam in 1966 as an artillery forward observer. In 1970, during his second Vietnam combat tour, he commanded A Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment and had been in charge for two months when he was wounded, McLaughlin added.
He was sent to Tripler Army Medical Center twice, McLaughlin said, pointing to a photo of Shinseki in a hospital bed. "The second time was when the right front of his right foot had been blown away.
"But he fought to stay in the Army. The rest is history. He could have easily given up and been retired with a medical discharge."
Shinseki was promoted to general in 1996 and was named as commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, the allied land forces in Central Europe, and the NATO force in Bosnia. In 1998 he was named vice chief of staff of the Army, and chief of staff in 1999. Besides serving two combat tours in Vietnam, Shinseki commanded the U.S. Army forces in Europe and the NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
His tenure as the head of the Army, however, was not a smooth one.
He drew fire when he decided in the beginning of his second year as Army chief that all Army troops would be required to wear a black beret, which until then was a privilege only bestowed upon the Army's elite Ranger corps.
He wanted the berets to signify the change he expected the Army to undertake, going from a lumbering Cold War force to a more nimble, lethal strike team. In the Fort DeRussy museum, a plaque accompanying Shinseki's black beret adorned with his four stars notes Shinseki's desire that the beret "will become a symbol of a commitment to transfer this magnificent Army into a new force. It will be a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence, a symbol of our values."
Even as he prepared to retire last year, Shinseki remained a controversial figure. He told a congressional committee that the United States would need up to 200,000 troops as a peacekeeping force in Iraq, a statement that drew rebukes from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials.
He championed the founding of the Stryker brigades in 1999 and set the Army on a course that over a 30-year period would give it the ability to rapidly respond to small-scale contingencies or major war. His plan called for deploying a brigade of 3,900 soldiers in four days and a division of 16,000 soldiers in five days.
His first Stryker brigade was deployed to Iraq earlier this year. The 2nd Brigade at Schofield Barracks will begin the transformation when it returns to the islands next year after a combat tour in Iraq.
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Gen. Eric 'Ric' Shinseki,
Nov. 28, 1942: Born in Lihue, Kauai
retired U.S. Army chief of staff:
June 1960: Graduated from Kauai High School
June 1965: Graduated from West Point
1965-66: Vietnam, 25th Infantry Division
1969-70: Vietnam, 9th Infantry Division
1982-84: Commander, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany
1987-89: Commander, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry, Germany
1994-95: Commanding general, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood
1997-98: Commander-in-chief, U.S. Army Europe
1999-2003: Army Chief of Staff
Personal: Married to the former Patty Yoshinobu of Kauai; one son and one daughter