TOMMY KAKESAKO / 1921-2007
COURTESY / WAYNE IHA / MAY 2007
Tommy Kakesako, who operated Kakesako Brothers Jewelers with his brother Kenneth, joins his sister, Joyce Inao, and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye at the May 31 groundbreaking of a building named after him at the Disabled Americans Veterans complex at Keehi Lagoon. CLICK FOR LARGE
442nd veteran was a gem of a friend
The longtime jeweler helped build Keehi Lagoon Memorial
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Tommy Kakesako would have made a great politician, said his sister, Joyce Inao.
"He knew how to persuade people," she said.
Those powers helped him raise money and enlist volunteers to achieve his dream, a "living" war memorial at Keehi Lagoon. From swampland arose the Keehi Lagoon Memorial Complex.
Kakesako, 85, co-founder of Kakesako Brothers Jewelers, died Friday at Tripler Army Medical Center.
A veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company L, during World War II, Kakesako was close to many politicians and prominent residents who served with him.
"I'm going to miss him," said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. "We served together in the war and also after the war. He was the guiding light and the spark plug for the Disabled American Veterans, and the Keehi Lagoon development has his fingerprints. All the buildings can be traced to his efforts."
The Tommy Kakesako Rehab Building was named to recognize his dedication and work that began in 1959 with a desire for a DAV clubhouse.
Groundbreaking was held in May for the Keehi Adult Day Health Center and Childcare Center, which will house rehab services, to honor Kakesako as chairman of the nonprofit Keehi Memorial Organization. Inouye was instrumental in moving up the event so Kakesako, who was ill, could attend, Inao said.
Today the popular complex has fishponds, gardens, a gazebo, meeting facilities and recreation on an 11-acre site.
"It's just beautiful," says attorney Jeffrey Ono, whose father, Tokuji Ono, a member of the 100th Battalion, ranked Kakesako among his good friends. The two WWII veterans were founding members of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Hawaii.
Kakesako was born in Papaikou, a sugar village on the Hamakua Coast. One of five sons in the family, he went to Hilo High School, then to the Elgin Watch College in Elgin, Ill., and to the Institute of Gemology. He then worked with his brother Kenneth at a jewelry store.
When war broke out, he served in Europe and was seriously wounded trying to rescue a Texas "Lost Battalion," the late A.A. (Bud) Smyser of the Star-Bulletin recounted in a 1994 column about the Keehi Lagoon Memorial Project.
His war injuries were not visible, but his abdominal area "was ripped apart," Inouye said. "He was never complaining. He was always mission-oriented."
Kakesako was sent to a hospital in England, and when the war ended, he rejoined Kenneth, who had opened a jewelry store, Inao said. They incorporated in 1950 and started Kakesako Brothers Jewelers, still at the same location at 923 Alakea St.
"You can trace just about all of Maggie's (Inouye's wife) jewelry to Kakesako Brothers," Inouye said. "I hope they keep that old name, because that's how we know it."
It was one of the first jewelry stores in Hawaii to permit time payments, Inouye said. "That's why you would see gals wearing big rocks and wonder where in the world they got them. Tommy was trusting in that sense."
Michael Kakesako, last of the five brothers, said Tommy was "a survivor," living 1 1/2 years after he was told in February 2006 he had only six months to live with pancreatic cancer.
"He was an awfully nice guy," recalled James Burns, retired chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals. "He was a great supporter of my father," the late Gov. John A. Burns.
Burns said he can still picture Kakesako as he "sat at his chair there, repairing watches or doing jewelry," adding, "He was very good at what he did. ... He enjoyed life. He enjoyed his business."
Kakesako's brother and sister are his only immediate survivors.
Military services will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 19 at Hosoi Mortuary. Visitation will start at 3 p.m.
Ashes will be placed in a niche at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl, after the services. The family requests no flowers.