LIHU‘E — Turk Tokita remembers how cold it was in October during World War II in France.
A veteran of the 442nd “Go For Broke” Regimental Combat Team, he traced the path of the group’s movement in the area of the Helledraye Forest above Bruyeres for guests Friday at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center museum where a map is located.
Geralyn and Willard Holck and Eric and Mary Ann Nemoto, leaders of the Bruyeres to Honolulu 2011 Planning Committee, were the guests visiting from Honolulu.
“Kaua‘i is the first stop of a 13-day tour of a delegation from Bruyeres and Biffontaine,” Geralyn Holck said. “There will be at least 31 of them coming, and there could be as many as 40. They arrive here Sept. 29 and stay until Oct. 1.”
Bruyeres is one of the towns rescued from Nazi occupation by soldiers of the 100th and 442nd Regimental Combat Teams. The residents are coming to meet veterans and families of those units which were made up of men of Japanese-American ancestry, many of whom are from Hawai‘i, Willard Holck said.
“They consider us heroes,” Eric Nemoto said. “When we visited Bruyeres, they treated us better than royalty. For that matter, if they find out a visitor is from Hawai‘i, they go all-out to take care of them. They have ceremonies of honor. Not just one, but many, at the memorials of those places where the soldiers of the 100th and 442nd impacted. They consider Hawai‘i as the home of their heroes.”
Willard Holck said the group, a lot of them being original residents of Bruyeres when helped by the 100th/442nd, will not be staying on Kaua‘i long, but want to make sure they can meet as many of the veterans of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd team as possible.
“They consider them heroes and have gifts for them,” the son of a 442nd veteran said.
For those veterans who have since passed, Willard said they want to meet the surviving families of those veterans.
“They consider Hawai‘i a very special place,” Eric Nemoto said. “One of the people we met was a kindergarten teacher, and they may not know how to read Hawaiian, but every student can sing ‘Hawai‘i Pono‘i.’”
Aida Cruz, one of the Kaua‘i coordinators for the tour, said she wants to make sure the veterans are aware of this trip. And for those who have passed on, she wants the surviving relatives of those veterans to register with her.
When the French delegation arrives, a reception at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center is being planned before the group leaves for its hotel.
The last time Honolulu, a sister city with Bruyeres for 50 years, hosted a group was in 1976, Willard Holck said.
“They treat Hawai‘i people with the red carpet treatment,” Gerilyn Holck said. “Now it’s our turn. We want to show them the beauty of the Islands, give them gifts and souvenirs, cover as many meals as we can afford to, and even help them reduce their hotel room costs.”
She said just the cost of bus transportation is more than $20,000 and the planning committee will be holding a golf tournament on O‘ahu to help defray some of that cost.
For Kaua‘i people, veterans and relatives of the 100th and 442nd are asked to register with Cruz and be present when the reception is held.
“This trip is very special for them,” Eric Nemoto said. “They are coming to the home of the place where their heroes come from. They consider this a very special place.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.