Love thy neighbor

Every once in a while, the stories about freedom are uncovered in the most unlikely of places. 

Sometimes, they are buried deep in the memories of those brave patriots who fought to protect it and other times, they are buried in an old box of papers. 

For Miki Nagahisa, of Wailua, she was reminded of a tale of heroism, freedom and love when she came across a term paper her daughter, Michelle Nagahisa, wrote in college. The paper was heaped together in a box full of reports and school assignments from her six other children.

And finding it, Miki said, was like finding a treasure.

Michelle wrote about the man she called her Uncle Pat who was actually her grandfather’s brother. His name was Patrick Kahaumea Aki and he was born and raised in Wailua during the 1920s and ‘30s.

“His mother and father always instilled in him good moral values, which consisted especially of loving their neighbors,” Michelle wrote.

Those good values eventually saved Aki’s life.

It started years before that, however, when Aki and his brother befriended a boy from Japan, named Fumitani Jibutsu, who had just moved into their Kauai neighborhood, an immigrant child who was shunned by everybody else, except them. 

It was a welcoming gesture for Jibutsu, whose parents were Shinto priests and spoke no English. Jibutsu also struggled with the language, making finding friends almost impossible.

“No one wanted to be his friend because he could not speak English, so my brother and I befriended him because we were taught to love thy neighbor,” Michelle wrote about Aki’s memories.

Little did Uncle Pat know then, but Jibutsu would return to Japan and become a soldier for her army.

Uncle Pat, however, answered a help wanted ad after graduating from Kauai High School in 1941 and worked as a laborer on a tug boat on Wake Island, a 2.85-square mile island west of Hawaii in the north Pacific Ocean. 

The island was attacked along with Pearl Harbor that fateful December morning.

“The planes flew around our campgrounds and machine-gunned our quarters but fortunately no one was in the quarters at the time,” Nagashisa wrote about Aki’s retelling of history.

Weeks later, the Japanese overtook Wake Island and Aki became a prisoner of war. Only 450 of the 550 laborers would be taken to POW camps in Japan, however. The Japanese soldiers executed the others, and Aki was singled out to be put to death.

“They had us kneeling on the ground, with our heads hanging, each man would look up into the barrel of the gun to meet his fate as an officer would stand directly in front of him to help deliver his destiny,” Michelle wrote about Aki’s fate. “When it came to my turn, I raised my head so that I could see my executioner and to my amazement, the man that held the gun was Fumitani Jibutsu. He lowered the gun and just stared at me and before I knew it, I was taken to Japan as a prisoner.”

It would be 60 years before Uncle Pat, who now lives on Oahu, would talk about the experience. The result was Nagahisa’s college paper, which Miki provided to The Garden Island to share Aki’s remarkable story. The paper was submitted in February 2001 and received an A plus from her Chaminade University professor. Its author has since graduated and is studying to attend law school.

Miki said Aki, who spent three years in the camp before returning to Hawaii which made for a big story in the Honolulu newspaper upon touchdown, had never told his brothers or parents about the time a neighbor boy had shown him mercy. They didn’t want to pry. Miki was with her father and her uncle in Las Vegas on the day Michelle called to explain how Aki had finally revealed his long-withheld story of salvation.

“When I got off the phone I relayed the story to both brothers and they looked like twins sitting across from me with the same grin on both their faces that their faith brought all of them through the horrors of war,” Miki told TGI.

That was 12 years ago. Since then, Miki still reflects on her family’s war experience.

“It is part of what life is,” she said, “the miracle that takes place.”

• Lisa Ann Capozzi is a features and education reporter and can be reached at lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com.

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