By Ben Tamashiro

Years ago, in a column with the above title, I used to write on whatever I felt might be of interest to the readers of this paper. The title, seemingly a contradiction, is a combining form, the first part an obvious reference to this paper, while my meanderings constitute the second. I shall take up the cudgels again.

So much of history is pegged to battles. Six years ago, the people of Biffontaine erected a simple memorial in the woods above the town where the 100/442 fought, and where they rescued the “Lost Battalion” of the 36th Division. Its simplicity lends itself to the surrounding woods and is in sharp contrast to the bloody battles it memorializes.

A group of us visited the place this past summer. At the memorial, the mayor of Biffontaine said that the people sensed a big battle in the making when U.S. planes began airdropping supplies into the forest. The sound and fury of the battle reminded the mayor’s father of the battle of Verdun in WW I. Earlier, in 1961, the people of Bruyeres had erected a memorial in the forests above their town. Most of you are familiar with that memorial because it has been pictured numbers of times in numerous publications, which is why it is not pictured here. Although the two memorials are dedicated to the men of Hawaii who gave so much of their blood and guts to liberate a small corner of France, in a way, they also say something about the French people themselves – of their intense love of freedom and all that it connotes. Perhaps, this is the greater meaning of the two memorials; that in these visible expressions of the exploits of the 100/442, the people in this little corner of France find dignity, humility, and companionship in the fact that they are not alone in the pursuit of freedom.

A bit of the French Underground in Hilo. Larry “Kodak” Kodama, a scout with Dog Company, is one of those who scrambles down the rope ladders of the troop transport in Salerno Bay when the 100th lands there in September, 1943. Now, after more than a year of almost constant battles, he is tired. He is one of the few original members of the 100th still on the line, in Bruyeres. He wonders when the fighting is to end.

He kicks open a door of a house in Bruyeres and comes face to face with a man dressed in civilian clothes. The man calls out the German cry of surrender: “Komerad!” Hands in air, the man looks right down the gun barrel of death. Slowly . . . Kodak squeezes the trigger of his pistol …. “One Puka Puka!” the man suddenly calls out. What’s this? Kodak can scarcely believe what he hears! Pistol still pointed at the man’s head, his sensing throwing out all kinds of danger signals, Kodak then asks, “Who are you, anyway?” Calmly, the man answers, “My name is Jean Drahon and I’m with the French Underground attached to the 36th Division.”

So begins the little saga of Kodak and the Frenchman. Jean Drahon is one of countless numbers of Frenchmen who go underground when France capitulates in 1940. Four years later, as the Allied invasion force from the Mediterranean pushes northward to the German border, the Underground rises to join hands with the advancing Americans. This is how Jean Drahon becomes attached to the 36th Division as a scout. And that is how come, one day in the Battle of Bruyeres, with the 100/442 now attached to the 36th Division, one Larry Kodama, fighting in a land halfway ’round the world from his home in Hilo, stands, pistol in hand, wondering whether it’s not time to quit and get the hell out of there when he hears the numerical designation of the 100th being uttered in Hawaiian by a foreigner. But from that encounter, the two thereafter work together as scouts on a common mission.

Last year, Jean Drahon was among the group of citizens from Bruyeres who visited Hawaii. Last month, Kodak made his first postwar visit to Bruyeres. His wife Sue accompanied him. They were part of a group of Hilo veterans on a tour of Europe.

The Honolulu-Bruyeres sister-city relationship was established some 15 years ago. As growing numbers of veterans, their families, and friends make Bruyeres a key stop on their tours of Europe, and as affections filter down to the individual level (like Kodak’s), we may yet find formal relationships being established between Hilo-Bruyeres, Wailuku-Bruyeres, and Lihue-Bruyeres; acts to remind us that the dissuasions of time, distance, and language can be overcome if we are sincere enough in our efforts to lock in the arm of friendship between two diverse groups of people.

As an enlargement of this, the Hiloans themselves may someday take the lead by placing a marker or memorial of their own in Wailoa State Park or Liliuokalani Park. Such a memorial may help to project the Franco-Hawaiian arm of friendship one step further, into the land of the Issei’s, because there, in those parks, the memorial will be a compliment to the bridges, gardens, and structures that reflect the life of the land of our ancestors.