Butterflies are for Real: Howard Y. Miyake

An Imin Centennial Series Saluting the Men of the 100th Infantry Battalion

Hawaii Herald, 5/17/1985

“I heard the round coming: Sh-h-h-sh! A mortar shell! I threw myself forward. It exploded right behind me. I could see dust flying all around me. Fortunately, I was so close to the explosion that most of the fragments went over me but nevertheless I got caught from my neck down to my toes.” That moment was almost two years to the day that Howard Miyake had sailed out of Honolulu Harbor, on June 5, 1942, with 1,400 other members of the newly activated 100th Infantry Battalion; the first Nisei combat unit in the history of the United States Army.

Now, as part of the 34th Division of the Allied Fifth Army, in his first week of June 1944, the 100th was in the mainstream of Fifth Army elements driving to the gates of Rome. And on this day, with Company A in the lead, the 100th was the point battalion in a task force that included a company of tanks, a company of tank destroyers, and two companies of 4.2 chemical mortars–a formidable mobile aggressor force, indeed, but also a tempting target for enemy gunners.

And in the confusion of battle, as though he did not already have enough things to worry about, Miyake, a lieutenant and executive officer of Company A, had his hands full trying to stop some artillery fire that, in a moment of mistaken identity during the fast breaking order of events, was being directed against the 100th by friendly forces. And, attesting to the spirited defense put up by the enemy around the hills of Rome, by the end of the task force’s two-day assaults against the enemy the 100th had suffered 15 casualties and many more wounded, Miyake among them.

He passed out as medics evacuated him from the front. At the battalion aid station, the surgeon, after one look at his shot-up body, and unaware that Miyake had regained consciousness, declared resignedly, “Looks like another hopeless case. But let’s turn him over and dress his wounds anyway.”

At that moment, says Howard, “I made up my mind to live. I’m going to fool you, man. I’m going to live.” But it was awhile before anyone thought of turning him over to take a good look at his wounds. “And when they did, they found that I was so full of holes they didn’t know where to grab me.”

Transferred to a field hospital, “I was there for three days but the ward doctor never looked at me. He came in the morning, shuffled his patient cards, put them away, then grabbed a can of juice, and he’d be drunk all day. He was mixing his can of juice with cognac.” Recognizing his plight, the ward nurse, at some risk to herself, intervened in his behalf, and shortly he was on his way to a general hospital in Naples.

Bandaged and strapped to a litter, Miyake was slung beneath the wings of a Piper Cub plane, “on the left side, with another litter on the right. There were still some Germans in the area so the pilot had to sideslip and hedgehop to escape their life. It was probably a short trip, but it seemed like hours. I was resigned to fate.”

Subsequently evacuated to a stateside hospital, doctors there had to sever part of his sensory nerves to the brain in order to relieve the intense pain shooting out from his injured left leg. “One day the neurosurgeon came by and asked me how I was doing. Terrific!’ I said. ‘How’s your pain?’ Again I replied, ‘Not bad!’ Then he said, ‘I think I can completely eliminate the pain. But there’s a catch.'”

“How’s that?” he asked the doc.

“You won’t be worth a damn as a man.”

“What do you mean?”

“You won’t be able to get an erection.”

All of Miyake’s collective nerves snapped to attention. Hell, this was no time for games. With all the verve he could muster, he cried out, “Doc! I’ll keep the pain! I’ll keep the pain!”

Miyake did not return home to Hawaii till two years after the end of the war at which time he was also discharged from the army, as a captain. Altogether, he had spent three-and one- half years in five stateside hospitals.

During his long convalescence at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, he had met Juanita Carmencita Arnez, she of Spanish- French-American Indian descent. After a courtship of eight months, they were married in Reno in 1948. But their union was to be denied its full course. Born in the Lake Charles area of Louisiana, a place heavily wooded with pine trees, a pine fungus had lodged in her lungs when she was 14 and that had brought on the first stirrings of sarcoidosis, or Boeck’s disease. It was not until 1951, however, that the cause of her lingering illness was diagnosed as such. Juanita died in May 1972, almost to the day they had married 24 years earlier.

“She remained a beautiful person to the end. Three days before she died, she said to me, ‘Howard, don’t remain a widower very long. A man your age, living a bachelor’s life, only deteriorates. Find someone nice and get married to her. And if you don’t take good care of your second wife, I’m coming back to haunt you.'”

Says Miyake, “I recited this to my second wife, Harumi, and it made her very happy because she had been warned by her former classmates that she shouldn’t marry a widower because she’d be competing with memories of the first wife, be competing with a ghost.”

Miyake met his new wife through his role as president of the Japanese- American Institute of Management Science, or JAIMS. JAIMS is an executive management school founded on the idea that international understanding and friendship can be enhanced through study, training, and appreciation not only of the differences but of similarities in the multinational business world. The school is located on Hawaii Kai Drive and, since its establishment in 1972 by Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo), thousands of students from around the globe have come to study there, to be trained as potential international business leaders.

The school’s objectives are taught through a basic 2-track program, the Japanese management program and the American management program, providing instruction in management practices and business techniques of the other. Academic studies run for a period of five months, followed by four-month internships in major industrial/commercial firms in Japan and on the West Coast.

There are other short-term programs offering studies in principles of Japanese management systems and conduct of business in Japan. Special seminars cover management systems in major free-world countries,and there are also programs in scientific and applied research.

Miyake was the legal counsel in Hawaii for JAIMS during its formative years, then came its chief executive officer 15 months after its organization. On one of his early trips to Japan in behalf of JAIMS, Miyake was introduced to Harumi Yajima, a vivacious young girl from Tokyo. A graduate of Ferris College in Yokohama, she speaks, besides her native tongue, Spanish, Norwegian and English.

Swept off his feet by her charms and intellect, Miyake’s problem of course, was to help her overcome the negative advice of her classmates with respect to widowers. If ever there was a time to put into practice the principles of effective cross-cultural communication as propounded by JAIMS, this was it.

He succeeded, and the two were married in 1973, the ceremony held on the beach at Aina Haina. And it is through this marriage that Miyake’ first and only child, a son, was born on July 4, 1976- a “bicentennial baby!” as the proud father likes to exult of Mark .

When Mark was 3 years old, the family had gathered in the yard to string up three sets of paper carps in celebration of Boy’s Day. Miyake explains: “We were sitting on a concrete bench, admiring the carps swimming against the breeze. Then a butterfly, a Monarch, came to rest on my right forefinger! How do you explain a butterfly coming to rest on a person’s finger?”

The tale of Miyake and the butterfly, however, really begin two days after Juanita’s death, when Miyake and his nephew noticed a butterfly flitting about the house. It flew around the entrance, circled the house a number of times, then flew up to the rooftop and disappeared.

While she was living, one of the things Juanita kept urging Howard to do was oil the roof shingles, but he was always too busy for that. Suddenly, he decided that he had the time for it. On the day he began the job, a butterfly kept circling round his head. He chased it off, fearing that the fume from the roofing solution might harm it. Next day when he went up on the roof to finish the job, the butterfly appeared again, played around his head, then disappeared.

Meanwhile, Miyake had passed on Juanita’ clothes to a dear friend who was about Juanita’s size. He tells of her experience. “She had been lowering the hem of Juanita’s Thai silk dresses to meet the current style. Her eyes tired, she went into the garden to rest when she felt something flying around her head. She tried to brush it away but the moment she saw it was a butterfly, she had a funny feeling that it was Juanita telling her how pleased she was that she could use her dresses.”

Then, on a trip to Japan, Miyake was invited by the President of Fujitsu on a deep-sea fishing trip. The evening before while the two were strolling in the garden, the host was surprised by the appearance of the butterfly. He explained that, due to environment pollution, he hadn’t seen one in years. The butterfly followed them into the dining room. The wife was equally surprised at the rare appearance of the winged creature.

The next morning—“We were fishing, four of us. And one of them calls out to me that a butterfly is flying over my head. Now, this is way out on the ocean. So I turn to look, and sure enough there’s a butterfly flying over my head.”

One year, on another trip to Japan which took him from Hokkaido to Kyushi, Miyake became ill. Although he had brought some antibiotics with him from Hawaii for just such a contingency, on the advice of a local doctor he began taking some Japanese medicine. But he got sick all the more, to the extent that he could scarcely move. Lying flat on his back in his room, in a Japanese inn, he wondered about his dilemma when something told him to open the shoji windows to his room. So sick that he had to crawl on all fours to get there, he barely made it. Then, with great effort, he opened the windows. There, flying around the window, was a white butterfly. It seemed to be telling him to discard the Japanese medicine and take the antibiotics. He did, and the next morning he was on a tour of Nagasaki and Kumamoto cities with the sickness behind him.

“I never believed in reincarnation till all these things happened,” Miyake reflects. Long ascribed in some mythology to marital devotion and the awakening of manhood, the beautiful butterfly had taken on new meaning as a symbol of reincarnation.

Miyake told his young son the story of the butterfly, uncertain as to whether the boy understood phenomenon. Until one night at the supper table, as Mark’s turn came to say grace, at the tag end of his customary string of thanks to the Lord “for the sunshine, the flowers, the green trees, the singing birds,” and so on, he added “…and the butterflies.”