2009 – The Last Hawaii Reunion

It was a perfect day to begin a week of festivities honoring Ex-POWs. Event organizer, Nick Tsuyoshi Nishimoto is both happy and sad to see it come to an end. For Nishimoto, this particular pilgrimage marks both a celebration and a final farewell.

For the past decade, Nishimoto along with Tommy Tahara and Francis Yasutake have spent the better half of their years organizing Ex-POW Reunions. Each year, Ex-POWs come from around the United States to Hawaii to meet up with old friends, recall memories and honor those who never returned home.

The festivities began with a picnic at the Hale Koa on Waikiki beach. Ex-POW Bill Norwood said grace and many of the local Korean War Veterans prepared food and brought drinks. The following day began at 6:00 AM with a bus ride to the USS Arizona. Each year, Nishimoto organizes a private tour of the USS Arizona as well as a tour of Pearl Harbor. This year, Nishimoto greeted all the Ex-POWs with continental breakfasts before he rushed off to the hospital for 4 hours of dialysis. After the tour, we went to Ford Island to visit the Pacifi c Aviation Museum and visited Hickam Air Force Base for a beautiful lunch on the beach. The day concluded with a private tour of the Joint Pacifi c Accounting Command (JPAC) Identifi cation Laboratory.

Friday, April 9, 2009 was officially Ex-POW/MIA Recognition Day. Punchbowl National Cemetery hosted a Memorial Day service; organizations from all over the islands offered flowers. Joni Albao danced the hula to “What a Wonderful World.” Saturday culminated with the Sayonara Banquet at the Hale Koa. This was the second year Japanese American Living Legacy was invited to be a part of this celebration. For CEO, Susan Uyemura it was deeply moving to listen to the stories of each POW’s survival. “I am glad I live in a country that honors those willing to suffer the injustices of war; they are all heroes.” Uyemura has formed a strong bond with many of the Ex-POWs.

Although there will no longer be any formal reunions for this group, Punchbowl National Cemetery will continue to honor April 9th as Ex-POW/MIA Recognition Day.

Submitted by Susan Uyemura (Shoho)

April 2008

The Ex-POWs, Korean War, held their annual reunion in Honolulu, Hawaii earlier this month. Over 160 attendees gathered to honor the POW/MIA survivors and those who perished while defending our country during the Korean War. This reunion was organized by Nick Nishimoto, and assisted by Francis Yasutake and Tommy Tahara to commemorate and recognize the POW/MIA soldiers and veterans.

Nishomoto, along with retired Colonel Al Streck (master of ceremony), hosted the opening banquet on April 3, 2008 at the Hale Koa Hotel. The Consul General to South Korea and various military personnel welcomed all of the ex-POWs. During the banquet, ex-POWs described their individual stories; some of the stories were shared with a sense of humor. However the severity and cruelty of being a prisoner was never misplaced. Clarence Pang described one moment when he told his captors, “The best thing my grandmother ever did was leave your country!” This defiant comment earned him a brutal beating and had him literally thrown out the door. Shorty Estabrook had pogs made that read “Tiger’s Survivors” across them; Tiger was one of their most cruel punishers during captivity. Most of the ex-POWs knew “Tiger.” Tiger had a reputation for tormenting his prisoners on long marches; many did not survive.

President Bush signed a proclamation declaring April 9, 2008 as POW/MIA National Recognition Day.