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West Hawaii veterans gather for Memorial Day service

Updated: 
May 27, 2014 - 12:05am

Hawaii has been home to many heroes, including one man who dispatched an enemy sniper with a shovel, then took three enemy soldiers prisoner, the grandson of a World War II veteran said Monday.

Ten thousand men of Japanese descent volunteered just in Hawaii to serve in the military during World War II, Evan Matsuyama said. His grandfather, Noburu “Don” Seki was the keynote speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.

Seki was a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He received, among other awards, a bronze star and purple heart, for losing his left arm in battle.

“The story of the 442nd has been perplexing for historians,” Matsuyama said. “Despite acts of blatant racism … thousands volunteered to fight.”

Matsuyama, himself a historian, said he asked himself why. The reason, he said, is that the Japanese fought to be able to free their families from internment camps and to end discrimination against themselves.

“You fought to protect our future,” he said, addressing several Japanese veterans in the audience directly.

Despite his grandfather’s injury, Matsuyama said his elder maintained a sense of humility and humor. When Matsuyama went to visit France recently, Seki asked his grandson to “get his arm back.”

Matsuyama said many Kona veterans left their coffee farms and joined the military not knowing what would await them when they arrived. Seventeen West Hawaii military members died during the war.

“These extraordinary men gave their all to protect their country,” Matsuyama said.

Seki offered a brief reckoning of several American cemeteries in Europe, encouraging people to visit those locations, if they had a chanwce.

Capt. Yong Mo Yang, a defense attache to Hawaii from the Republic of Korea, told the audience that sacrifice, dedication and allegiance to country are among the “highest good” people can achieve.

The captain said he sees Hawaii as a paradise, one that younger generations may be called to protect.

“These are the values that we should keep today, and hand down to our sons and daughters,” he said, offering “sincere respect to all heroes, whatever nationality.”

He also offered a Turkish proverb that he felt was fitting for Memorial Day.

“They say that (you should) listen 100 times, ponder 1,000 times and speak once,” he said. “I will admit, I don’t have any words, except one: respect.”