Hawaiian Odyssey Part 3. In the Foot Steps of Greatness: Following the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s Legacy in Hawaii

Shortly before coming to Hawaii, I read Daniel Brown’s Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, and learned the entire story of the Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (otherwise known as the 442nd RCT) and their families. I knew of the unit before, read snippets of their history,  and even watched Go for Broke during Memorial Day weekend filmfests on American Movie Classics (AMC) growing up. The book was riveting, telling the story of these individuals from the moments after the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor through the end of their lives. What struck me more than that, however, was how much of an influence many of them had in shaping today’s Hawaii. The fact is—these brave souls who toiled through the battlefields of Europe proving their might not just against the Germans, but also many Americans as well– came home and then took up the fight for Hawaiian statehood. I knew that once I got to Honolulu I would need to see their impact for myself. Thus with just a few days left on the island, I went on one last adventure to follow their footsteps.

In the annals of US military history, the actions of the 442nd are unmatched. They were the stuff of legends, taking on the toughest missions, accomplishing the most difficult tasks, and being awarded more medals for bravery than any unit before or since. Even today, the legacy of their members is evident in film, books, and even on recent postage stamps. But combat was only half of their fight. The 442nd was a regiment made up of Japanese-Americans, most of whom were interned in camps after Pearl Harbor. And while many of the military aged men volunteered to demonstrate their courage and allegiance to the United States, their families remained in interment camps throughout the western US. Their story both in combat and post-war remains the stuff of legends. They epitomized everything the United States stands for and then some. President Franklin Roosevelt summarized this sentiment when he declared at the signing of the authorization order to establish the 442nd, “The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”

From the moment you arrive to Oahu by air to when you leave again, the legacy of 442nd is everywhere. Landing at the airport you realize that it’s named after 442nd veteran, Medal of Honor Recipient, and former US Senator Daniel K. Inouye. At my hotel I didn’t have to travel far to come across a monument to the regiment across the street. Two hundred meters past that, and you find yourself at the front door of the Daniel K. Inouye Pacific Center for Strategic Studies (DKIPCSS), a forum for civilian and military leaders from across the Pacific to gather and work regional security issues. Another quarter mile from there sits the US Army Museum of Hawaii, a former coastal artillery fort on shores of Waikiki (part of Fort DeRussy). It was here with two days left in my adventure, I stopped to check out the museum’s exhibit on the 442nd and its Hawaiian roots. Filled with a deep sense of awe at their accomplishments just by this small display at the museum, I made one last stop on my last day to pay them final respects.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific otherwise known as the Punchbowl, sits in a volcanic crater overlooking Honolulu and Oahu’s southern coast. Since its creation in 1949 over 53,000 remains of servicemembers from World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam and their dependents are interred on these hallowed grounds. It was here on my last day on the islands, I walked amongst these brave souls who gave so much for our country. Many of the 442nd to include Senator Inouye are buried here, and it is a fitting tribute to walk amongst the tombstones with their names and unit identified on it. Of all the headstones I saw, only the Soldiers of the 442nd had their unit listed. It is one small tribute to the amazing sacrifices and bravery they displayed both overseas and at home. I left feeling a great sense of pride and respect for these incredible American heroes. Now before leaving I had just a couple of things left to do.

          A short drive from the Punchbowl, sits Puu Ualakaa State Park overlooking Honolulu. It was here on my last day I indulged in a 4 mile trail run among the park’s network of pristine volcanic soil trails (i.e. red dirt). The views, the trails, and the vegetation were amazing! I even busted out my Luna sandals to take on some pretty tough terrain. As always the trails and my sandals didn’t disappoint! The views of the city all the way back to the iconic Diamond Head were nothing less than spectacular. While short, the four miles were either up or down– I don’t recall a single stretch of flatness anywhere along my route. But they were worth it! After two incredible weeks on island reconnecting myself with aloha and studying the amazing sacrifices of the 442nd, this run put it all into perspective for me. Total bliss! I came back to car all sweaty and dirty, but full of aloha. With only a few hours remaining on island, I jumped in my car and headed back to the beach one more time.

I had every intention of pairing my run with one last swim, but the islands had other plans. While the winds on the island seemed calm, at Hickam Beach, the waves and wind told a different story. I could see them both blowing in. A swim was going to be tough, but I ventured out one last time. I swam maybe 200 meters before realizing the current had other plans for me. Knowing my limitations and not wanting to push my luck, I headed back to shore. No need to push it. The sea had spoken. I listened. Nothing left to do but reward myself than with one more beer at my favorite beach hideaway. This time I chose Golden Road’s Wolf Pup session IPA which paired beautifully with the Puu Ualakaa’s trails, the sun, the sea, and the sand. I couldn’t think of a better way to round out this trip. After two amazing weeks and tons of memories, this was a great way to say good bye.

And like that, the sun set on this adventure and I left Hawaii again. I’d accomplished all I set out to do: from following the footsteps of the 442nd, to seeing old friends, to exploring the amazing trails of Oahu, with many mai tais and ocean swims in between. Heck, I even did some work! It was a trip to remember, and one I won’t soon forget. I knew this sense of aloha, this island spirit would strengthen me for the future adventure that lay ahead.

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