Monday, September 27, 2004


Bernard Akamine, 82, and Ed Ikuma (not pictured), 85, carried a wreath during the 59th Memorial service for members of the 100th Battalion at the National Cemetery of the Pacific yesterday. Akamine and Ikuma are both veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion who served during World War II in a Japanese-American unit that later became known as the Purple Heart Battalion for their valor and large number of men killed or wounded in action.

Honoring the 100th

100th Battalion veterans pay
tribute to their fallen comrades
in a ceremony at Punchbowl

World War II veterans of the famed 100th Battalion gathered at Punchbowl cemetery yesterday to honor comrades who died in battle in Europe and to offer prayers for younger members of the unit headed to war in Iraq.

Shizuya Hayashi, 87, who was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving with the 100th in Italy in 1943, said, "I hope the boys will do all right."

Both Ed Ikuma, a member of Headquarters Company, and Bernard Akamine, who was in Bravo Company, said the next generation of the 100th Battalion warriors is upholding the legacy and tradition of his highly decorated World War II unit.

Ikuma, 85, added: "I wish them luck and hope they all come back in good health. War is a serious thing. You have to expect the worst."

Brig. Gen. John Ma, commanding general of the Pacific Army Reserve's 9th Regional Readiness Command, said the conflict that the next generation of 100th Battalion soldiers faces is "unlike any war that has been fought.

This is a war against terrorism and nonstate adversaries who are willing to perpetuate premeditated, politically motivated violence against innocent people to include women and children."

The names of 338 members of the Purple Heart Battalion who died in Italy and France during World War II are inscribed on a marble plaque in their clubhouse near the Ala Wai canal, Dr. Denis Teraoka, president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club, told an audience of nearly 200 yesterday at the National Cemetery of the Pacific.

Since 1945, veterans of the 100th Battalion, composed mainly of second-generation Japanese Americans (nisei) who volunteered to fight to prove their loyalty after the attack on Pearl Harbor, have held a memorial service at Punchbowl on the last Sunday in September. The service is conducted annually to coincide with the date the first member of their unit -- Sgt. Joe Taketa -- died in action: Sept. 29, 1943, in Italy.

More than 1,500 nisei soldiers served in the 100th Battalion in World War II. More than 500 of them, including 166 who were killed in action, are buried at Punchbowl.

In his prayer of remembrance, the Rev. David Turner, Punahou School chaplain, whose grandfather, Lt. Col. Farrant Turner, commanded the 100th Battalion in World War II, said the soldiers "responded with a courage unprecedented and a commitment unexpected by a questioning nation."

The modern-day Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442 Infantry, is part of the Hawaii Army National Guard 29th Infantry Brigade, which is preparing for a year-long deployment to Iraq.

Chaplain Turner said these citizen soldiers "go forth in the coming weeks into these troubled waters. Again hailing from the Pacific and these islands, these men not only represent a grateful nation, but the hearts and minds of home communities and loving families.

"Like their predecessors before, we pray for them the strength to proceed with honor, loyalty, courage and perseverance. ... History and legacy travel with them. May their service engender the very same pride that those whose lives we honor and remember today have given us."

Ma said he is confident that the newest 100th Battalion, which will begin leaving Schofield Barracks next Monday, "will continue to carry out the great legacy that has been established by those who went before them" and which made it the most decorated Army unit of its size.

Noting that the mission of the 100th Battalion will be difficult and that the year-long separation from their families will not be easy, Ma asked the audience "to keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers" since such home-front support "will make their burden a little lighter."

Ma added that "as they head off into battle, it is my earnest prayer that the torch of liberty that the soldiers of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry wear on their shoulder will continue to bring liberty and freedom to the people of Iraq."

Since last year's memorial service, 41 members of the World War II unit have died.

At the Kanana Fou Congregational Church in Waipahu, leis were given yesterday to Samoan members of the 100th Battalion headed to Fort Bliss, Texas.

Prayers offered to
American Samoan

Pfc. Laveitiga Suiaunoa said he came to prepare himself for war, and more than a year away from his wife and young son.

"You always begin things with a prayer," he said as he rocked his 3-year-old in his arms outside Waipahu's Kanana Fou Congregational Church yesterday afternoon. "Church is the priority."

The Army reservist was one of more than 200 American Samoan members of the Fort Shafter-based 100th Battalion who attended yesterday's special service at the church, which was full of prayer and best wishes for the Iraq-bound troops.

Some 1,200 church and family members also attended the send-off, which organizers called a traditional Samoan going-away get-together. Many attendees had family members in the 100th Battalion -- set to leave Oct. 4 for training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, before heading to Iraq.

Yesterday's service started at about 3 p.m., with reservists walking single file into rows of roped-off pews as the audience belted out a Samoan-English version of "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Attendees filled the available pews, lined the walls and spilled into an adjoining foyer.

"This isn't something you see every day," said Ron Storer as he looked around him at the crowded church.

The Maui resident flew to Honolulu yesterday to see his cousin, who is from American Samoa and in the 100th Battalion. Attendees also came from American Samoa and other parts of the Pacific, organizers said.

In March the church held a similar service -- attended by about 1,000 -- for 40 American Samoan members of the Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Battalion, whose members also come from Hawaii and Alaska. The unit was headed to Iraq for a year.

"I think it's mainly for the soldiers," said Mona Pule, a member of the church choir whose cousin is a member of the 100th Battalion. "They need to get the support from their community."

And yesterday, support was in no short supply.

Above the church, a 12-foot-long sign read, "Keep our soldiers safe" and "Blessings and love from your families." Women wore dresses with "Support our troops" iron-ons, and several attendees sported buttons with the pictures and names of their loved ones heading off to duty.

"We care about our guys who are going out there and wish them well," said Waianae resident Kehaulani Romero, whose cousin and soon-to-be son-in-law are preparing for Iraq.

Pfc. Arasi Powell, a member of the 29th Support Battalion, attended yesterday's service in hopes of worshipping the way she was taught while growing up in American Samoa. She said four members of her unit are Samoan.

"I heard they have Samoans," she said with a laugh before going into the church. "It's very nice to be around your own people."

Suiaunoa's wife, Nicole, agreed.

"It helps you to know that people are going through the same thing you are," she said.

After the service, hundreds gathered for a luau in the church's parking lot. Tables were set up in long rows under tents, and few seemed to mind the heat.

"It's a good feeling," said Sgt. Faamao Asalele, who is in the 100th Battalion.

His friend Spc. Lei Mauga nodded his head. Then he added, "It's a good motivation."



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