Monday, July 26, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Hideo Tomita, left, and Harry Kumabe, of the Korean
War Veterans Association, spruce up the Korean Vietnam
Veterans Memorial at the state Capitol. Tomita is cleaning
the name of his friend, Thomas Yokomichi, who was killed
100 feet away from Tomita during the Korean War.

Korean War
memorial is vets’
labor of love

A veterans group maintains the
Korean-Viet memorial to 'take
care' of their buddies who
were lost on the battlefield

By Gregg K. Kakesako


For several years a band of dedicated Korean War veterans has remembered the sacrifices of their fallen comrades by volunteering their time to maintain the state Capitol's Korean Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Louis Baldovi, 68, said he and Alfred Los Banos, a veteran of the 5th Regimental Combat Team, started this labor of love shortly after the memorial was dedicated in 1994 because "we knew then that a lot of war memorials are not well maintained and we were fearful that the same would happen here. We knew that the state didn't have enough personnel to do it right."

"After all, we have friends on this wall. If we didn't take care of them, no one else will," said the retired Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School principal.

Last Thursday, 30 members of the Korean War Veterans Association were at the memorial that borders Richards Street, dressing it up for tomorrow's observance marking the end of fighting on the Korean peninsula 46 years ago.

Recessed into the earth and cloaked by ferns, trees and other greenery, the Korean Vietnam Veterans Memorial is easy to miss.

The names of the 312 service members from Hawaii killed or missing in action in the Vietnam War, plus an additional 454 from the Korean War, are inscribed on 768 individual black marble pedestals.

More than 50,000 Americans were killed in the war that raged on the Korean peninsula from 1950 to 1953. The armistice put an end to the fighting, but there has never been a permanent peace agreement.

Delegates from the United States, China and North and South Korea still meet occasionally, seeking an accord. Nearly 2 million troops are deployed along the 2-mile-wide demilitarized zone separating South Korea and communist North Korea near the 38th parallel.

Bob Hamakawa, 68, current head of the Korean War Veterans Association, said the volunteer cleanup effort also gives the aging veterans "time to get together with their buddies."

Hamakawa, who was drafted into the 1st Marine Division in 1952, said his group of volunteers is working to try to restore the original appearance of the marble pedestals.

"There were water spots and other discoloration, and we tried a lot of different approaches. Someone suggested rubbing baby oil on the marble and it seems to be working. ... We want to have a memorial we can be proud of."

Francis Yasutake, 68, was 20 when he was drafted into the Army in 1952. He served as a rifleman with the 7th Infantry Division and started making his weekly pilgrimage to the memorial a year ago.

"I want to make this place presentable for the families, and I have a lot of classmates here," said the 1949 Farrington High School graduate.

A year ago, he was joined by Fred Fukunaga, who spent three combat tours in Vietnam between 1966 to 1971.

"This is the least I can do," said Fukunaga, who retired from the Army in 1986 after 30 years of service.

"Most people drive by here and don't even know there is a war memorial here," said Fukunaga, a 1952 Lahainaluna High School graduate.

Yasutake added that "when the wind blows, it pushes the trash here, where it accumulates."

Bob Gushiken, 69, said he had a hard time visiting the memorial at first.

"I used to hate coming here," said Gushiken, who served in the Korean War as an interpreter, "because a good friend -- Raymond Goto -- is on the wall. I saw him just before I left for Korea in 1952.

"He was going to become a first lieutenant. He was so gung ho."

Gushiken was wounded while serving as a liaison between U.S. and South Korean forces.

"But he (Goto) beat me back home. When I got back I just couldn't go to his funeral."

Not forgotten

The sacrifices of the soldiers from the Korean War will be remembered during a ceremony at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the state Capitol's Korean Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located along Richards Street.

Gov. Ben Cayetano will be the keynote speaker.

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