In Honolulu, Mementos of Attack Are Everywhere Japanese Now Maintain Heavy Commercial Presence

December 07, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

HONOLULU -- The ghostly silhouette of the USS Arizona lies just below the water's glassy green surface, bleeding a gallon of oil a day into Pearl Harbor.

Every day, 4,000 visitors take the short boat ride to the gleaming white memorial that spans the sunken ship -- a shrine, cemetery and tourist attraction all in one.

The signs that guide tourists are in Japanese and English. Several of the publications sold in the bookstore were printed in Japan. At the Arizona Memorial a few days ago, a Japanese man left this message on a comment card:

"War is cruel," he wrote. "We should never repeat anything like this again."

Even here -- at the watery gravesite of more than 1,000 USS Arizona sailors who perished in the Japanese attack a half-century ago -- there are unmistakable reminders of the symbiosis of Japan and the United States.

Especially so here, in a Hawaii that then and now cannot look itself in the mirror without seeing a Japan looking back.

*

HONOLULU, DEC. 7, 1941: It was a sunny Sunday morning in this Pacific paradise whose advertising slogan promised "a world of happiness in an ocean of peace."

George Akita, then 15, was still relishing his first-prize win two days earlier in a territory-wide essay contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The topic: Americanism.

As the young Japanese-American was preparing for Bible school, the sounds of anti-aircraft fire burst through the morning silence.

After the firing ended, a frightened George Akita walked slowly, tentatively, to Bible school.

"I didn't know what else to do. I saw one of the civilian victims on the sidewalk. He was dead. There was broken glass everywhere. I kept walking," said Mr. Akita, a scholar of Japanese history and retired University of Hawaii professor.

It was a confusing time for Hawaii's 160,000 residents of Japanese ancestry, who made up 40 percent of the territory's population and provided most of its plantation workers, grocers, restaurant workers and shopkeepers.

"There was no question in my mind or my parents' minds to whom we owed allegiance: the U.S. But culturally, I was confused," Mr. Akita said. "My parents had imbued me with Japanese virtues of hard work and forbearance. Culturally, I thought like a Japanese. On that day, however, I didn't know what to think. I just kept walking."

That same morning, in a grassy clearing near a pineapple plantation a couple of miles from Wheeler Army Air Base, 14-year-old Elwood Craddock was hunting pheasant.

"All of a sudden, there were all these planes 500 feet above our heads," said Mr. Craddock, now a golf course marshal at the Mid-Pacific Country Club. "They started their bombing pattern right above our heads. One of the planes was so close I could see the gunner's helmet. It reminded me of a coconut. Then, the ground started kicking up, bullets started ricocheting, and I started running."

Later, Mr. Craddock and his father, who supervised the plantation's workers, took their shotguns and patrolled the grounds after being warned by the military that their mostly Japanese laborers would probably join the "invaders."

"One day, these boys were my playmates," Mr. Craddock said. "The next day, I was ready to shoot the kids I had grown up with."

That afternoon, the Craddock family piled mattresses on top of the sturdy pine trestle table in their dining room. Underneath the table that night, a frightened family tried to sleep.

In downtown Honolulu, 11-year-old Roland Kanami Tatsuguchi opened his front door that evening to three armed soldiers who promptly arrested his father, the Buddhist leader of the Shinshu Kyokai Mission of Hawaii.

The boy did not see his father, who was interned at camps on the mainland 2,300 miles away, until 5 1/2 years later.

Today, the Rev. Roland Kanami Tatsuguchi is the minister at the Buddhist mission his late father once tended. Services are held in English and Japanese.

"It was a troubling time," he said about the years of incarceration for his father, one of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans interned during the war. "I suppose they were cutting the head off the chicken. I do not know. It is something my father never spoke about."

Near Diamond Head, Edith Ring was preparing breakfast for her husband, an Army doctor, and their three children. They marveled over coffee at the loudness of the thunder bursts that had interrupted the morning calm before Capt. Harold Ring rushed off to work at Tripler Army Hospital.

His shirt bloodied and the car engine still running, Captain Ring ran into the house a few hours later and gave his wife a pistol. "Use it if you need it," he told her.

Then he returned to duty, where the doctor, who died in 1965, was to later record in his physician's diary:

"[A soldier] told me the attack was by the Japs and many had been wounded. Poor devil. I doubt whether he lived long after I finished. We were amputating legs, arms and closing perforations of the bowels. The operating room soon became a slippery, bloody mess."

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