LIHU‘E — France and Kaua‘i have a lot more in common than many people suspect.
Martial Hilaire, president of the France Go for Broke Club, had powerful words to offer Thursday at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center.
“You came in 1944 to give Liberty to the people of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France,” said Hilaire, getting help from Christian Deville in translating a letter from the France Secretary of Defense and Veterans Affairs. “France does not forget the sacrifices of that journey you made. You are heroes.”
Hilaire and Ludovic Durain, Maire adjoint Ville de Bruyeres, or Mayor’s Assistant, headed up a group of about 40 people who touched down at Lihu‘e Airport for the start of a 13-day tour through the Hawaiian Islands, culminating with the 50th anniversary of a sister-city relationship with Honolulu.
Willard Holck, one of the leaders of the anniversary celebration from Honolulu, said the French people have never forgotten the deeds of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion veterans, many of whom were nissei from Hawai‘i.
The Frenchmen’s goal, in addition to combining a vacation and the sister city anniversary, was to meet as many of the veterans and their families, offering them personal thank-yous and gifts, said Holck, who was joined by his sister, Dana Holck.
County Managing Director Gary Heu said the sister-city relationship between Honolulu and Bruyeres was established in 1961 by the late Wilbert “Sandy” Holck, Willard’s father, and the late Monsieur Gerard Desshaseaux, a Bruyeres townsman.
Heu, in presenting the mayoral proclamation to Durain, announced Thursday as Bruyeres and Biffontaine Day on Kaua‘i, taking the opportunity to welcome the French delegation as well as honor and recognize all of the veterans “for their courage, humility, pride and for the everlasting bond Hawai‘i shares with Bruyeres and Biffontaine.”
He was joined by Kaua‘i County Council Chair Jay Furfaro, and council members JoAnn Yukimura, KipuKai Kuali‘i, Mel Rapozo and Dickie Chang, who presented Durain a gift of an ihe, or Hawaiian warrior’s spear.
More than 200 people filled the Kaua‘i Veterans Center, many veterans of other wars, officers of the Kaua‘i Veterans Council, and survivors of veterans of the 100th Btn and 442nd RCT, all joining the 18 surviving veterans who were able to make the event.
Tadao Suemori, a resident of the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, was one of those surviving veterans, accompanied to the event by Josie Pablo, the recreational therapy director of the hospital.
“He had to come,” Pablo said, while trying to explain to Durain that she worked for a hospital. “Every time you talk about the war, he lights up and gets excited.”
Ed Kawamura of Veterans Helping Veterans said he tried to get Jack Hada to attend, but Hada was suffering from an illness which prevented him from attending.
“It dawned upon me that the 100th and 442nd veterans accomplished an amazing feat when they rescued the Texans (The Lost Battalion) and people of Europe,” said Ken Morikawa, president of the West Kaua‘i Club 100 and son of 100th veteran Muggsy Morikawa. “At the time of their glory, no one would give credit where due. Today, I witnessed it firsthand of their accomplishments. Listening to the French give thanks to the 100th and 442nd RCT gave me renewed inspiration. I am so lucky to be part of this organization.”
Susan Honjiyo, whose father was a veteran with the 100th Btn, agreed.
“I, too, was very impressed with our dads,” she wrote in an email. “They were truly awesome before we were born. What a legacy they are leaving for us. The luncheon was truly a historic, memorable event and I am so glad that, as a team, we did an awesome job to make them proud of us. I will remember this for a very long time.”