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August 2005

My War Years in Hawai`i

By Walter Steiger

August 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Below are some island memories of a veteran.

Walter SteigerThe date was 26 January 1945 when we arrived in Hawai`i by troop ship. We were housed in a small barracks on the grounds of the “Pupule House” on School Street in Honolulu.

After a few weeks of doing odd jobs, I was assigned to the Inter-Island Radio System and was sent to work at the O`ahu station located at Mauna Kapu atop the Wai`anae range. After a few weeks of training, I was transferred to the Kaua`i station. The transportation was via the inter-island steamer, SS Wai`ale`ale. I will never forget that trip and I suspect there are very few persons around today who have experienced an inter-island trip by one of the steamers. The ship left in the late afternoon and sailed all night. It was a beautiful clear night with a full moon illuminating the deck where I spent the whole night. The crew was also up on deck, playing guitars and singing Hawaiian songs. Was this a dream? What a memorable experience!

The next morning in Nāwiliwili Kaua`i, an Army truck was waiting to transport me to the Army Signal Corps Headquarters in Hanapēpē. In passing through the County Seat, Līhu`e, I was warned to look quickly before I missed the town. Here was the only traffic light on the island, except for one in a cane field at the other end of the island. Yes, Kaua`i was quite rural and no tourists! But it was the beauty of Kaua`i that impressed me most.

The radio station was located in Kalāheo, up at the edge of the forest reserve with barracks and the transmitter and emergency generator buildings. This was to be my home for the next 10 months. The four of us running the radio station ate our meals at the Army Hospital which had been the Kalāheo Grammar School before the war. (Sadly the school burned down recently.)

One day one of the fellows and I were invited to someone’s home and that’s how I first met the Izuka family living in Hanapēpē. Fred Izuka was a truck driver and he and his wife Clara had 3 children, the oldest, maybe 5 or so, was Gladys, then Kioko and Koichi. This was my first introduction to a Japanese family and their customs. I learned to take off my shoes before entering the house, to use chopsticks, and to eat all kinds of new foods. I was treated like one of the family. New Year’s was an especially interesting time because of all the Japanese customs and foods that mark the occasion. This was the warmest and most generous family I had ever met who really made me feel at home. Fred’s sister, Mrs. Hirakawa, and her family lived in `Ele`ele and so I got to know them, too. I remember on one occasion after being at the beach, we all needed to take a bath, so the boys took me to the community bathhouse. That was another new experience!

In beautiful Kōloa town I attended the Kōloa Union Church where the minister, Rev. Howard Smith, and I hit it off right away. Not long after, Rev. Smith asked me to teach a Sunday school class to a group of 4 th and 5 th grade boys. On several occasions I took the boys on some hikes. A few years ago I came acrossPhoto by Walter Steiger some pictures I had taken of these boys on one of our hikes and discovered that one of “my boys” was Les Murakami! (legendary University of Hawai`i baseball coach.)

I had heard that there were some hard feelings among local young men about us service men going out with “their” gals. I can’t blame them, but hey, we were in our early 20s, far from home and eager for female companionship, just like the local boys who went to Europe! We had met some social workers and so got to know them and some of their colleagues. They would invite us to their staff beach parties at Po`ipū Beach Park and that’s where I met my future bride. Sorry, guys.

Well, time was approaching for my departure. The four of us were the last of the wartime military on the island and my term of duty had expired. I was assigned to depart on a flight from the airport at Barking Sands on April 1, 1946. April Fool! That, of course, was the day of the great tsunami, or tidal wave as it was called in those days. The airport was flooded and no planes left that day. But, the next day the planes were flying again out of Barking Sands and I bade Aloha to my beloved Kaua`i.

Walter Steiger from New Hampshire arrived in Hawai`i as a young Signal Corps technician, one of the many thousands of servicemen in the Islands between 1941-45. After his discharge, he married his island sweetheart, graduated from MIT and returned to the islands for good. He now lives in Hilo.

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