Sunday was time to show appreciation, respect and gratitude for our brave and selfless veterans. It was also a day for stories, told and untold.
During the annual Veterans Day service at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery, Evan Seki Matsuyama, a 19-year-old student at the University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii, shared the remarkable story of the Nisei Warriors of World II — the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Battalion, and the Military Intelligence Service.
Before the packed audience, Evan powerfully explained why these Japanese Americans defended their homeland despite being labeled enemy aliens by the federal government and enduring countless hardships. He spoke about how their bravery and sacrifice was just recognized Oct. 10, 2010, when they received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress. This achievement, he said, not only made them “distinguished soldiers, but also true Americans” that were “finally appreciated by a grateful nation.”
Evan told of his grandfather, Don Seki, who defied his parents by refusing to leave the United States for Japan, just one day before Dec. 7, 1941 surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Caring less about recognition or awards, this brave, modest man immediately gave his Congressional Gold Medal away after receiving it, believing Evan would appreciate it more than he could.
“I wonder how he felt when he volunteered to fight against the oppression of the Axis powers while simultaneously being oppressed by the very country he was willing to die for,” Evan said. “… I wonder how it felt to be coffee planters of Kona and the sugar cane growers of Ka’u who left the farms, families and everything that they knew to fight for what they thought was right — to fight for the freedom of others when they had few freedoms of their own.”
For Evan, one answer was: “They felt like Americans” who “were grateful to live in a democracy, in a country of opportunity.” One by one, he introduced the men and their family members in the audience. He thanked them for their sacrifices, efforts, courage and commitment, as well as the lessons of service, freedom and justice they taught him.
Keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Malakie, also shared stories of the past. Among his accomplishments, Malakie served at the U.S. Army Pacific Command as the chief of architecture, plans and resources for information systems. For the past 17 years, he has been the senior Army instructor for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at Konawaena and Kealakehe High Schools. He is also the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122.
During his remarks, Malakie recalled his time at basic officer training at Fort Bragg, where his drill sergeant introduced him to the “colorful and descriptive words that exist in the English language” and called his platoon as his “Duds.”
“I remember waking to the sound of (the drill sergeant) beating on the garbage can at 0330 in the morning, or as we would say, o dark 30. I remember the early morning physical training, the days on the rifle range, sleeping in a fox hole in the middle of a torrential rain storm, (and) that funny feeling of your skin pealing off your toes just before you get trench foot,” he said. “I remember the long forced marches with our heavy packs and the anticipation of what mystery meat awaits when you open your cans of C rations with your P38, and don’t forget the three or four cigarettes which were part of the rations. I remember the drill sergeant yelling, ‘Pay attention. This will keep you alive when you get to combat.’”
Malakie shared his pride when he and his platoon surprised his drill sergeant by wearing T-shirts stenciled with “Duds have potential” on the morning of graduation; as well as how proud he felt when his parents pinned on his gold bars. He had that same pride while pinning the gold bars on his son, a captain who is currently assigned as a medevac pilot and serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Malakie talked about Desert Storm and the day his battalion got on awaiting C141s. A young soldier then asked if he’d be OK and brave in the coming the battle. Malakie’s response was the same thing he told himself: “You are well trained and prepared. You will be fine.”
The smells of battle, gun powder, burnt Iraqi vehicles and brunt flesh — these are the tastes that linger in the back of Malakie’s throat when thinking of Desert Storm.
“I remember the carnage and the sound of the burning oil wells, like torches blazing 50 feet into the sky all across the battlefield. We used to call it the fires of hell,” he said. “After all was done, I remember the homecoming and holding my wife and young children.”
Malakie recognized several local veterans in the audience, proudly sharing tidbits about their service and how they continue to give. He also spoke about the support given by spouses and families of military men and women, the more than 80,000 troops still deployed in Afghanistan today, and the outstanding patriots helping veterans.
“Today less than one percent of our population serves in the military, and certain groups in our country continue to work to erode the benefits that these heroes have earned through their military services and sacrifice,” he said. “… So I say to my fellow veterans, tell your story, let others know that freedom is not free and support our troops.”