Taking Care of the Boys

After his recovery, Otagaki returned to school and earned a doctorate in animal science. He served as director of agriculture under Gov. John A Burns, and is currently an emeritus professor in the University of Hawaii’s Animal Science Department. Understandably, even after 50 years and all of their personal accomplishments, Isaac “Doc” Kawasaki and Ken Kengo Otagaki remain close to other members of the 100th. As chair of the 100th Battalion’s 50th anniversary committee, Otagaki wants to ensure that the legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion is preserved and perpetuated for the children of the soldiers and the generations that will follow.

“We want them to learn that the 100th really opened the doors for young people to be where they are,” explained Otagaki. “Our fathers and mothers were immigrant laborers. After 25 or 30 years of hard work, they didn’t make more than $1 a day. They were so suppressed that they couldn’t vote. They couldn’t express their feelings without getting kicked out of their meager homes, which were made up of used lumber from the flumes.”

When the young men of the 100th saw Caucasians performing menial labor on the Mainland, Otagaki said the Japanese American boys realized that they were just as good as any white man. When the war ended, many of those who survived took advantage of educational opportunities and attained prominence as educators, doctors and politicians. “You never saw those things before the war,” says Otagaki. “We can express ourselves; we can hold our own. That’s the legacy of the 100th.”

Otagaki has been busy co-editing a 225-page book commemorating the history of the 100th. Co-authors Ben Tamashiro, Thelma Chang, John Tsukano, Shurei Hirozawa and Sakae Takahashi have all contributed to the effort. Together, they have spent hundreds of hours going over the manuscript to get the facts right. “I couldn’t have gotten a better group, so I’m very proud,” he says. He is grateful to the project’s contributors for making publication of the book possible. Several large contributions were made by widows, in memory of their husbands. “Without being asked..” stressed Otagaki. “You know, these are very touching things.” The book will be available in a couple of weeks and can be purchased for $20.

“This was done without the monetary support of the Board of Directors of the 100th,” said Otagaki, adding that some veterans feel that enough has been written on the 100th. “It’s a real shame,” he says.

“What we have covered is just the tip of the iceberg. I wish I could tell you all of the little experiences I’ve had. Others have much more. The history, the struggles of the 100th will remain forever, and we hope that young people will carry on.”

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.

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