At first glance, the black-and-white photograph appears rather unremarkable, sad as it might be. The U.S. flag-draped coffin in the center indicates a military funeral; 30 or so mourners stand somberly behind several large floral wreaths. In the background, a simple wooden building bears a small sign with the words “BUDDHIST CHURCH” stenciled above a row of Japanese characters. At the head of the coffin, next to the Buddhist priest, stands a young soldier, presumably, like the deceased, a member of the nisei (2nd generation Japanese-American) 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.
It’s the caption below the photo that floods my eyes with tears. A funeral for a nisei who had been killed in combat. This funeral was held in an American detention camp, behind barbed wire. The body was brought home to the camp.
The sorrowful scene is part of Eric Saul’s exhibit “Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts” and poignantly illustrates the theme. As President Truman said while addressing the men of the 100th/442nd, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice – and you have won.”
Victory, of course, has its price. The U.S. suffered over 400,000 military deaths in World War II. Of the 680 nisei killed in action, 101 were from Maui. Their names are inscribed on the dedication plaque at the Education Center of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku.
The “Go For Broke” exhibit is on display at the center until June 13, open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, including Memorial Day. It is inspiring, infuriating, enlightening, and I plan to return, probably on Monday. I can’t think of a more fitting and proper way to observe Memorial Day. Except, perhaps, for Blossoms for the Brave. This community flower drive and lei-making event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday on the front lawn of the County Building in Wailuku. More than 2,800 lei are needed to ensure that the graves of each of Maui’s fallen soldiers and honored veterans are properly decorated, Hawaiian style. Most will be placed at Veterans Cemetery in Makawao on Memorial Day by Girl Scouts.
Sponsored by the County of Maui and organized by Kaunoa Senior Services and the Mayor’s Office, the annual event offers everyone the opportunity to express appreciation for our veterans in a meaningful way. In announcing the event, Mayor Alan Arakawa said, “Each lei represents our gratitude for their service, and for the many ways they helped shape the community we live in today.”
Donations of fresh flowers or ti leaves may be dropped off between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. Friday in the High Street parking lot fronting the County Building. Flowers should be sturdy, like crown flowers, bougainvillea, orchids, etc. Plumeria buds and partially opened plumeria are also good. Ti leaves must be precut and frozen for lei-making. Any amount of lei materials will be welcomed. You can also deliver completed lei; please note that these lei must measure 16 to 24 inches before tying.
Better yet, plan on joining the lei volunteers for an hour or two, or just for 15 minutes, plenty of time to make a lei or two, especially at the shorter than usual length. Ample parking will be available at the War Memorial Sports Complex, in the Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium parking lot. Free shuttles will depart for the County Building every half-hour from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Whether you are an experienced lei-maker or have never strung a garland, Blossoms for the Brave is a feel-good event not to be missed. Volunteer coaches will guide novices through stringing flowers or twisting ti leaves into garlands of gratitude. You’ll enjoy camaraderie, refreshments and live musical entertainment by Kevin Kanemoto & Friends. I’ll be there as emcee, announcing each 500-lei milestone as we progress toward our goal.
Sitting outdoors under a giant tent, surrounded by fragrant blossoms and friendly smiles, listening to beautiful Hawaiian music and working with fresh flowers and greenery, it’s a lovely way to spend any Friday. The added satisfaction of taking part in a community effort of love and respect makes this Friday, truly, a very special Aloha Friday.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.