100th Battalion Bets Left Their Mark on Hawaii Politics
By: Arnold Hiura
Hawaii Herald, 6/19/1992
The l00th Battalion logo and motto, “For Continuing Service,” stands proudly mounted over a wall inside the Club 100 clubhouse on Kamoku Street. Directly beneath it are the photos of the club’s past presidents. The display is fitting, as these and other veterans of the club returned from overseas combat to contribute their best efforts to the betterment of their club, community, state and nation.
One of the most visible ways these men continued to serve others was in the realm of politics. Sparky Matsunaga, Sakae Takahashi, Howard Miyake and Robert Taira, all of whom held elective offices as Democrats, are probably the most widely known l00th Battalion veterans in politics. Others, like Mike Tokunaga, served as key planners and organizers who helped John A. Burns establish the Democratic Party. Still others served in various capacities in county and state offices, held cabinet positions, party offices, and served as district and circuit court judges.
Just as the l00th was merged with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on the battlefields in Europe, the returning veterans worked with one another across company and battalion lines. And although the veteran’s organizations are, by definition, officially apolitical, the bonds formed between the men did serve as an unofficial network in their postwar organizing.
“Actually, when it came to politics, the 442nd was more active,” explains Mike Tokunaga, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of 442nd vets Dan Aoki and Dan Inouye in the early organizing of the Democratic Party under Burns. “I believe because most of the guys in l00th were older, fewer of us went off to get law degrees and such after we got back from war.” With jobs and families, veterans of the l00th were also less likely to set themselves up for arduous careers in elective offices.
Tokunaga pointed out that the age differential between the 100th and the rest of the 442nd vets also translated into more l00th members, like Katsumi Kometani, returning to already established personal and professional loyalties to the Republican Party. Pre-war Hawaii was dominated by the Republican Party, and a number of individuals who had already climbed to some level of status had joined the Republican Party by the time the Democrats started to rally support amongst the veterans around 1950.
Kometani, who did serve as a member of territorial and state Board of Education, did not personally run for elective office, but was deeply involved with dozens of community and professional organizations, and worked tirelessly on behalf of the Republican Party.
The fact that Lt. Col. Farrant Turner and Maj. James Lovell both well-liked and respected men who had led the l00th Battalion in war-were active Republicans may have also had some influence over the actions of some individuals.
Whether Democrats or Republicans, all of these individuals understood that one of the most important avenues to improving the quality of life for themselves, their families, former comrades-in-arms, and the society-at-large was through the political process.
In his pivotal analysis of modern Hawaiian history, “Hawaii Pono,” scholar Lawrence Fuchs relates a wartime incident between two wounded nisei veterans, Sakae Takahashi and Dan Inouye, who talked while recuperating in adjoining hospital bunks. According to Fuchs, Takahashi implored his fellow war hero, “The war veterans should study hard, enter politics, and right the wrongs that had been done the Japanese community of Hawaii.”
Takahashi, who led that impassioned conversation, went on to serve as territorial treasurer under appointed Gov. Oren Long, becoming the first nisei to hold high territorial office. Takahashi was later elected to the territorial legislature in the “Democratic Revolution” of 1954 along with Matsunaga. Dan Inouye, Masato Doi, Mitsuyuki Kido and Matsuo Takabuki-all 442nd vets were likewise swept into office during that electoral landslide.
Spark Matsunaga, who was elected to the territorial house in 1954, served in that office until Hawaii attained statehood in 1959, then continued on in the state legislature until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962. Matsunaga held that position until 1976, when he faced off with his former Congressional colleague, Patsy Mink, in a run for the U.S. Senate. Matsunaga won that election against the present U.S. Congresswoman and remained in the Senate until his passing in 1990.
Robert Taira actually volunteered for the 442nd, then was assigned to the 100th Battalion as a replacement. He was elected to the state house of representatives in 1962, a position he held until he was elected to the state senate in 1970, a post he held for another eight years. Following that, Taira became the state’s chief labor negotiator, and is remembered for his role as a key political strategist and organizer for the Democratic Party.
Howard Miyake was elected to the territorial house in 1958, the last territorial legislative election before statehood was attained. Because of statehood, he had to run the following year and was again elected. He served as majority leader in the state house of representatives until 1970.
In a 1985 Hawaii Herald article written by l00th Battalion veteran Ben Tamashiro, Miyake reflected upon the role he and his colleagues played in shaping modern Hawaii:
“To me, the real significance of the Democratic program was, first, the support of public education. That included the upgrading, equalizing and standardizing the school system. And putting parks in low income areas for recreational purposes.
“And one of the best things we did was pass the anti-trust laws in 1962. This broke up the economic control of the Islands by the Big Five corporations, which then opened the door for investments from abroad and the establishment of new companies.
“Then in 1967 we passed the Land Use Law which forced landowners to convert their lands into the best and highest use. The law accomplished some of its purposes, but created new sets of problems, like high density. “Then we concentrated on upgrading the University of Hawaii. We set a goal of 10 years and we were able to do it.”
In a 1983 Hawaii Herald article written by Roland Kotani, Spark Matsunaga, who took the same fight to the national level of government, shed some additional light on the subject of the veterans’ involvement in politics. Known for his strong humanistic perspectives, support for human and civil rights, and a commitment to world peace, Matsunaga said:
“The suffering and poverty that I went through as a child have helped to make me a better man and (so has) the fact that I was a member of the original 100th Infantry Battalion…”
“Having come so close to death so many times-by starvation and by violence at the hands of the enemy all that suffering has helped to make me a much stronger man.”
This article appeared in the June 19, 1992 issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion. It has been reprinted courtesy of The Hawaii Herald, Hawaii’s Japanese American Journal.