YUKIO 'YUKI' OKUTSU / 1921-2003

President Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to Yukio Okutsu in 2000 during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Vet put priority
on family, war buddies

Yukio "Yuki" Okutsu, a Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran, lived for two things -- his family and the 442nd, his son said.

"He told me he'd never forget his buddies from the war," said Wayne Okutsu, adding that his father moved to the Big Island from Kauai to be closer to his comrades from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Fox Company.

Okutsu died Aug. 24 in the Hilo Medical Center. He was 81.

Born Nov. 3, 1921, and raised in Koloa, Kauai, Okutsu spent 18 months in combat in Italy, where he used grenades and his submachine gun to neutralize three German machine gun positions on Mount Belvedere on April 7, 1945.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and returned to Kauai in December 1945. He donated the medal to the Kauai Museum.

"My father was like that -- a real generous man," Wayne Okutsu said. "He wasn't a showboat. He just wanted to give Kauai something to be proud of."

In 2000, Okutsu's Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor after Congress ordered the Army to review its records to see if anti-Japanese sentiment during the war prevented the soldiers from getting full recognition.

President Clinton presented the nation's highest recognition for valor in combat to Okutsu at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

In an interview with the Star-Bulletin in 2000, Okutsu said: "I knew they were going to upgrade some of the medals, but I didn't know if I was going to be in there. ... I never thought about it. What the heck, we're too damned old already."

But Okutsu was never too old to take care of his friends. He and several other veterans from the 442nd Fox Company used to take their friend Toshio "Hoxie" Nagami on a walk every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Nagami was injured during the war and later suffered a stroke, which left him a quadriplegic.

"Every day since Hoxie had his stroke, they'd pick him up, crank him up, stick him in a chair and they'd all go walking," Wayne Okutsu said.

Their walk would end each day at Cafe 100 (named after the 100th Battalion), where they would sit and talk story.

"They never lost sight of Hoxie. As more of them retired, more joined the walk," Wayne Okutsu said, adding that the 30-year-old tradition was his father's favorite thing to do.

Okutsu had trained as a watchmaker in Kansas and moved to the Big Island, where he worked for Hawaii County as a mechanic. He retired in 1985 as superintendent of the County of Hawaii parking meters branch.

Wayne Okutsu recalled his father as a quiet man who loved to fix watches and tend to his two acres of anthuriums.

Okutsu died a month after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

"I see how tough he was," Wayne Okutsu said. "It's different from the normal toughness. He's bigger than life already. He's bigger than all of us. He always was."

Okutsu is also survived by wife Elaine Okutsu; son Randal; brothers Seiji, Tsuneo and Paul; sisters Gladys Endo, Mitsuko Matsuura, Fukuyo Tanaka, Margie Shinn, Betty Thomas and Rachel Akazawa; eight grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.

Services will be held at 4 p.m. today at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin. Inurnment is set for 10 a.m. tomorrow at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery, No. 2 in Hilo.


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