Noted promoter
and war vet dies

Friends and family recall
Ralph Yempuku as
an honorable man


By Rod Antone

Ralph Yempuku's list of accomplishments is so long that family members aren't quite sure where to begin.

Besides being a former World War II veteran who parachuted behind enemy lines in Asia, he was also a tireless promoter who helped to bring rock concerts, boxing matches and other sporting events to thrill Hawaii crowds.

Yempuku died of a heart attack while walking along Kapiolani Park yesterday morning. He was 88.

"He definitely had a full life," said Yempuku's oldest son, Roy, yesterday. "He was well traveled, my father.

"And he was a good friend."

Yempuku's brother Paul, 75, said: "We were real close. Ralph paid for me to come back to Hawaii from Japan ... he paid for everything for me.

"Back then, that was like a dream for young people to come here."

Yempuku, a retired colonel in the Army Reserve, was with the Military Intelligence Service, attached to the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and participated in guerrilla operations in Burma.

Yempuku detailed some of his missions in a publication called "Secret Valor" issued by the Military Intelligence Service Veterans Club of Hawaii: "Our mission called for us to be dropped behind Japanese lines to supply and aid the guerrillas, to ambush, blow up bridges, cut communication lines and generally harass the Japanese ... We received intelligence information from the native Shan and Palaung villagers using gold coins and opium as payment. By then the Japanese knew of our operations and I learned they had placed a price on my head, about $20,000!"

After the war, Yempuku returned to Oahu where he worked as a manager for Waikiki's exclusive Lau Yee Chai restaurant. Later, in the 1950s he worked as a promoter with a budding young disc jockey who had an ear for rock 'n' roll.

"He taught me the business," said promoter Tom Moffatt. "We brought in Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Frankie Avalon.

"Ralph was a real gentleman, his word was his bond and he had a golden reputation in this business."

Moffatt said Yempuku's last promotion ended tragically. In 1994, at a Circus International performance at the Blaisdell Center, the elephant Tyke killed her trainer, injured another person then ran loose in Honolulu for about half an hour before being shot to death by police.

Despite the way Yempuku's career ended, Moffatt said he hopes people will remember the man himself.

"He was an honest and trusting person," said Moffatt. "I thought the world of him and never heard anyone else talk bad about him."

Yempuku is survived by two brothers, two sons and six grandchildren. Family members say funeral arrangements are pending.

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