Nalo Farms founder
known for WWII valor

Charles Jitsumi Okimoto, 87, founder of Nalo Farms and a 100th Battalion veteran, died Thursday at Wahiawa General Hospital.

Over the years, the farm grew papaya, guava, green onion, daikon and herbs. Dean Okimoto returned to the farm in 1983 to help his father, Charles, eventually steering toward the boutique lettuce and greens that are its hallmark today.

Charles Okimoto had undergone heart bypass surgery earlier this year and had other health problems, including an inoperable aneurysm, said his son. He died in his sleep while in the hospital undergoing tests, Dean Okimoto said.

"He had no fear of pain because of what he had been through," Okimoto said of his father's service in World War II. "He's tough and stubborn. He didn't just let it go. He was always a fighter."

Charles Okimoto was born in Honolulu and grew up farming with his father in upper Manoa Valley. He volunteered for the Army immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

Badly wounded in battle in France, he spent 1944 to 1953 in West Coast hospitals undergoing reconstructive surgeries, his son said.

According to friends who served with him, Okimoto crawled from a foxhole where shrapnel "sheared off part of his face" to reach medics 100 yards away, Dean Okimoto said.

His buddy who was in the same foxhole died, and "even with all the pain and suffering he went through, he was thankful he survived," his son said.

Okimoto met his future wife, Lily, when she was his nurse at a veterans hospital in San Francisco. In 1955 they married and moved to Waimanalo, where Okimoto began farming the 10 acres that today is Nalo Farms.

Chef Roy Yamaguchi, owner of Roy's Restaurant, has been a friend of the family and a loyal customer since the late 1980s. He praised Okimoto yesterday as "a great human being, very warm, loving ... very determined, and he cared a lot for his family."

Okimoto is survived also by son Roy; daughter Linda Kato; brothers Shigeru and George; sisters Chiyoko Nakamura, Kazuo Hironaka and Lillian Kaneshiro; and grandchildren Leigh and Nicolas.

Services will be at 3 p.m. Friday at Hosoi Garden Mortuary.

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