Dr. Richard Kainuma

In 1953, Kainuma was named president of the Kuakini medical staff and led the effort to modernize and accredit the hospital. He served in this capacity for one year. It was a demanding job that required not only medical skills, but tact, determination and knowledge of Japanese and American medical cultures.

During his tenure as president, a successful fundraising effort was held, which combined with a federal grant, enabled the hospital to construct a new wing. In addition, on the day the hospital received its accreditation, Kainuma gave a speech to 500 people and was quoted in the press as saying that the accreditation was the beginning of a “new era in improvement and service.”

In the meantime, he continued his practice and obtained hospital privileges at Kuakini and Kapiolani Hospitals. Some of his patients, his son Robert recalls, were the soldiers from 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He delivered their babies, went on house calls and took care of their families. When he was not at work, he spent most of his free time with Mildred and Robert. His son remembers him as “a loving dad who always had time to play football or catch with me.” He was passionate about golf (he had a single digit handicap), and played regularly with his close friends. In addition, he was a vice president of the Club 100 and an early director of Central Pacific Bank, the first Japanese American-owned bank in Hawaii.

Franklin Kometani, whose father, Dr. Katsumi Kometani, had also served in the 100th Battalion, was 18 years old when he accidentally cut his right hand on the edge of the family car’s tail light. It was a Sunday afternoon, and he remembers being taken by his father to Dr. Kainuma’s office on King Street.

“My hand was cut very deeply and Dr. Kainuma operated on me. I remember him as a very handsome, very quiet man. The cut had severed the nerves in my hand. My father said later that I was lucky that Dr. Kainuma had been in the war because he had seen so many kinds of terrible injuries that he knew immediately what to do. If he had been a regular general practitioner in those days he would probably not have been to able to do as a good a job as he did. After the operation I was able to recover the full use of my hand.”

His early death of a heart attack at age 54 on September 3, 1965, stunned his family and friends. Then U.S. Representative (later Senator) and fellow 100th veteran Spark Matsunaga, who himself had been severely wounded on the battlefield, spoke for many when he wrote of his friend, “He leaves behind him notable accomplishments and a host of friends. Many benefited from his warmth and kindness, including myself.”

-by Michael Markrich

Michael Markrich is a Honolulu-based researcher, writer and editor. He and Monica Yost, eldest daughter of the 100th Infantry Battalion’s wartime chaplain, Israel Yost, co-edited her father’s memoirs, which were published in 2006 by the University of Hawaii Press as “Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the World War II Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion.”

Read Dr. Richard Kainuma’s Memoir