Brothers Herb and Neil Ogasawara, right, met for the last time in 1952 in Uijongbu during the Korean War. A few months later Neil was killed in action.

Korean War vets
to honor fallen GIs

Events will pay tribute to men
who fought and died in the conflict

By Gregg K. Kakesako

It was in the summer of 1952 that two brothers from Moiliili met in the midst of the Korean War several miles from the front lines.

Pvt. Neil Ogasawara, a 21-year-old draftee, was anxious to get home -- to a girlfriend, family and a job. He told his older brother Herbert that if he volunteered for combat duty and left the safety of his quartermaster job far from the front, he could cut his stay in Korea by seven months.

"I can't tell you not to," Herb Ogasawara, 73, recalled telling his brother at that meeting in Uijongbu near Seoul. "If you want to, go ahead."

A few months later on Sept. 30, 1952 -- just two months shy of his 22nd birthday -- Neil Norio Ogasawara, McKinley High School class of 1948, was dead.

He was cut down by a mortar barrage as his platoon regrouped having just completed an evening patrol.

He was one of 247 Japanese Americans either killed in combat or who are still listed as missing in action in Korea. Of that number, 197 were from Hawaii. More than 3,500 Japanese Americans served in the Korean War.

Brothers Herb and Al Ogasawara, right, helped set up an exhibit Monday that will honor Japanese Americans killed or taken prisoner during the Korean War. Herb is holding a picture of his brother Neil.

Next week, mainland and local Japanese-American Korean War veterans organizations will honor their fallen comrades with three events:

>> A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Korean and Vietnam War Memorial on the grounds of the State Capitol. Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura and Ji-doo Lee, consul general of South Korea, will be the featured speakers.

>> Nearly 100 people, the majority of them members of the Japanese American Korean Veterans association, will attend a luau Tuesday at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.

>> A reception to mark the opening of a month-long exhibit at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii's Community Gallery honoring the 247 AJA soldiers will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 25. There will be a $7 admission charge.

There are events this week and next designed to commemorate the Korean War and generate continued awareness of those killed in action or still listing as missing.

National POW/MIA recognition day on Friday will begin at 9 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base.

Later that day at 1:30 p.m. Johnie Webb, deputy director of the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory; and Leo McKay, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs deputy secretary, will pay a special tribute to the missing in action from the Korean War at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl.

Webb also will participate in a retreat ceremony at 3:30 p.m. that day at the USS Arizona Memorial. Brig. Gen. Steven J. Redmann, commanding general of Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, will also speak.

About 1,900 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, more than 8,100 from the Korean War, 120 from the Cold War, more than 78,000 from World War II, and one service member from the Gulf War.

James Iha, past president of the Hawaii United Okinawan Association, noted that the number of Hawaii servicemen and women who served in the Korean War was four times higher than the national average.

"Of the 33,665 Americans killed in the Korean War," Iha said, "456 were from Hawaii, which had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation."

Two Hawaii soldiers, Sgt. Leroy A. Mendonca and PFC Herbert K. Pililaau, were awarded the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

Two hundred forty-seven of the 456 KIAs and MIAs were AJAs.

Iha said he believes that a third of the 197 local AJA casualties were of Okinawan ancestry.

Herb Ogasawara said that about 160 of the 247 AJAs killed or missing in action have photos in the exhibit.

"The biggest problem is trying to locate their relatives," he said. "And sometimes when we do find them, they are not interested and tell us that they just want to get on with their lives."

However, he is still hopeful that eventually all 247 casualties will be represented. Family members of the Korean War AJA casualties who are not part of the exhibit can contact Stanley Igawa at 696-8998 for future information.

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