The town of Hanalei here on Kauai's north shore had a large Japanese population in the 1940's. Most of the older men had immigrated to the islands to work in the sugar plantations, bringing their families with them as part of their contract or sending for them when they had earned enough to afford passage.
When their work contracts with the plantation were finished they could leave the plantation and choose a different lifestyle. Many did, often turning to rice farming which was familiar and well suited to the island's climate. Along with raising produce and fishing this provided ample food for their families and surplus they could use as barter for other goods.
Hanalei, with its fertile fields and abundant rain was a perfect environment for rice farms and it became a thriving community for these Japanese families. But on December 7th, 1941 everything changed for them.
That morning - across the channel on Oahu - the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Within hours the United States declared war. Some of the sons of Hanalei's Japanese families were already enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard and the (University of Hawaii) Territorial Guard. Both units actively responded to the chaos of those first few days, preparing for possible invasion and aiding the wounded.
A few days after the declaration of war against Japan orders were issued and all of the Nisei (Japanese Americans) were stripped of their rifles, under suspicion because of their ethnicity. Eventually their weapons were returned but during this critical period it was difficult for them to gain acceptance in their former units. Nisei who were discharged from the Territorial Guard because of their ethnicity formed their own unit called Varsity Victory Volunteers and continued to contribute wherever possible.
Hawaiian Japanese-American soldiers went on to be a major component of the most decorated infantry in US history, the legendary 100th Infantry Battalion (aka "The One Puka Puka"). Puka means hole in Hawaiian, so 100 is one-hole-hole.
The 100th Infantry was initially comprised primarily of Nisei from the Hawaii Army National Guard. These men saw very heavy combat throughout World War II and earned the nickname "The Purple Heart Battalion". The battalion was later combined with another Nisei unit, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. The combined unit is the most decorated in US history.
Still referred to by some as "the One Puka Puka", the 100th Infantry Battalion is the only remaining combat arms force in the US Army Reserve. Their motto, an echo of their historic beginning, is "Remember Pearl Harbor".
The next time I visit that memorial I will be remembering The One Puka Puka and thinking of those families in Hanalei - and throughout the islands - whose fathers and sons fought the good fight for all of us.