Mary Hamasaki: Unbreakable Spirit

Mary Hamasaki: Unbreakable Spirit

Hawaii Herald, 12/20/1985

By: Ben Tamashiro

This is the last in the series of sketches about a local life story, the 100th Infantry Battalion. Over and above the accounts of men in combat in Italy and France, the articles have told of the towns and plantation camps in which these AJAs spent their boyhoods, cast some light upon family groups, reveled in their diverse postwar careers, introduced wives, and marveled at the changed environment in which their offspring go off to higher education almost as a matter of course. Most were in their early 20s when they were sent off to fight on the other side of the globe and proved to all who cared to see that their Americanism was as solid as everyone else’s.

Understandably, the series could touch upon just a handful of the countless stories extant. It’s been a meandering type of thing. The bits and pieces that fit into this story about Tadayoshi “Ted” and Mary Hamasaki are told in much the same manner. He was born in Kipahulu, Maui in 1907, which made him older than most of the men of the 100th. Ted was a platoon sergeant with Company D, 100th. Subsequently, he received a battlefield commission as lieutenant. He was wounded at Anzio in April 1944. Evacuated to stateside, he spent a year undergoing treatment and recuperating in a number of hospitals, then was finally discharged from a veterans hospital. It was in Chicago that he met Mary Kobayashi.

“My father held a number of jobs in places on the West Coast so I moved quite a bit when I was young” says Mary. “And, of course, wherever we were, the Japanese community was always a very small part of the whole.” The family had settled in Berkeley when Pearl Harbor burst upon the American scene. Six months later, her family was evacuated to the horse stables at the San Bruno racetrack and then to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.

“I was 21 then. I had one elder sister. We were living in a rented home so we were not faced with the horrendous problem of suddenly having to dispose of property. My mother was tubercular so she was not evacuated, but sent to a sanitarium in Livermore. She died there in 1953. Although I was the only one in the family who was a member of the Japanese Free Methodist Church, it made room in its basement for storage of our household goods. My father returned to Berkeley in 1945 and, although I was not there, I understand that he got all his things back. He died the following year in October.”

After a year in Topaz, Mary got a job as a secretary in Chicago so was able to leave camp. She met Ted while visiting a veterans hospital where she met her first Hawaiian, Jack Mizuha. She subsequently met Ted and invited him over for dinner. They were married at the Chicago Theological Seminary. “It was nondenominational,” said Mary, explaining that Ted was a Buddhist.

Mary was drawn to him immediately. “He was such a nice guy. Quiet. He never built himself up- like claiming that he owned the island of Maui, or things like that.”

And Ted’s initial reaction to her? Mary describes herself as the talkative type: “It probably comes from my experience of meeting new and different people all the time when my father was moving around from place to place. I was young then and loved meeting others.” For the wounded and quiet GI, far removed from Kipahulu, Mary’s talkativeness, then, was a good antidote. As is typical of most Japanese, Mary doesn’t express herself in terms of love, but often repeats,”He was so good to me.” Could love mean anything else?

Ted returned to Hawaii in May 1945, and Mary followed shortly thereafter. The couple made their home in Wailuku, Maui where they raised four children, who now live on Oahu. All graduated from the university. Naomi Yap, the eldest, is a school teacher; Douglas, their only son, works at the UH; and Susan Tokuhama is with an insurance company. Gayle, the youngest, is with the research corporation at the university.

Ted never had a chance to go to high school because he had to help support his family. But in 1957 he earned his general education diploma in just one year, a course that normally requires four years of study. Mary had obtained an associate degree in secretarial science from Maui Community College and worked in the state tax office in Wailuku. When she retired in 1975, she enrolled in the paralegal program at Kapiolani Community College. Although it meant commuting to Honolulu overa two-year period, Ted encouraged her. He himself began to take courses at Maui Community College in elderly concerns and became heavily involved in that activity.

Last month’s Herald article on “Lifeline” explained how an electronic communication system serves as a safety net for the elderly and disabled. Ted Hamasaki’s “Lifeline” is Mary. This is her story.

Today, at age 78, Ted is blind and a quadraplegic. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has had an abdominal aortic aneurysm, and has undergone a sextuple by-pass and gall bladder surgery. There is no speech left in him; he answers short, simple questions with only a nod.

“It’s just a way of life for me,” says Mary. “I’ve come to accept it. My son says that somebody up there must have a purpose for keeping his father alive.”

Mary says for as long as she’s known Ted, he’s always been concerned about others. “For instance, he was in a freight hauling business and although the venture was not doing well, he kept it going because he was concerned about the welfare of the employees.” Ted loved plants. He was a maintenance worker at the federal building in Wailuku, which was recognized for its appearance. Much ofthe credit for the award went to Ted.

His illness forced him to retire and Mary has since devoted her life to caring for him. Jockeying the wheelchair around, or getting him in and out of a car, gets harder each day for the 128-pound woman, who now wears a weightlifter’s belt to protect her back. “I don’t need help,” she says. “The thing I have to watch for is that I don’t catch a cold, and if I do, take every precaution so I don’t pass it on to him.”

She feeds, bathes and dresses him and tends to his every need. Social service workers provide some relief during the week. Mary relaxes by knitting and crocheting. The craft works, she says, helps her maintain her sanity.

Mary doesn’t want to think of funeral matters so has never prepared for that eventuality. Doctors told her Ted had only two years to live; that period has long gone by. Nevertheless, Mary reads all the obituary notices, especially those from Maui. “When I come across a familiar name, I’ll ask Ted whether we should send a kodenand depending on a nod or shake of his head, I’ll act accordingly.”

Ted can still comprehend. “But I don’t read to him because it’s too much of a strain and the news items themselves might upset him.” These little considerations and concern for his welfare prevent her from sending Ted to a nursing home or hospital. She says the kind of care she wants for him is hard to find, so she carries the monumental task of caring for him alone.

“I know he’s hurting at times but he cannot tell me so. Even if he could, I wouldn’t want needles or tubes in him. He’s been so good to me.” So she patiently and diligently ministers to his needs with hope in her heart.

Mary feels hope when she sees Ted react to people, as he did when the Rev. Israel Yost, the 100th’s wartime chaplain, visited Hawaii to conduct the annual service at Punchbowl. When they met, Mary saw tears in his eyes.

But how much more hope can she have? “If my back gives way, that’s it, of course.” She laughs. “But, I’m disgustingly healthy!” With that she waves off her problems and talks about the secretarial and communication skills she offers caregivers like herself through newsletters.

The 100th Infantry Battalion left Hawaii in 1942 under a cloud of doubt and uncertainty; no one knew what would happen to the young men. Mary’s unbreakable spirit and her love for Ted reminds us of those perilous times when there was not much for the boys to cling to except faith and hope.