I’ve been lucky enough to live here in Hawaii for sixty years. Riding across the country on an Amtrak train, people I meet in the dining car are all interested to learn about these islands. And that was what provided the idea for my book, Fascinating Facts about Hawaii (See below). Today I thought I’d include a few excerpts from the book to show what an interesting and very special place this is.
The wettest spot on earth is here. It’s on the island of Kauai at the 5,148-foot summit of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, where rainfall averages about 450 inches a year. (That’s more than 37 feet!)
And so is the tallest mountain in th world. At 29,035 feet, Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain above sea level. Mauna Kea (“White Mountain”) on the Island of Hawai‘i rises 13,796 feet above sea level, but it also extends some 19,700 feet below the surface to the floor of the Pacific Ocean—for a total height of nearly 33,500 feet.
Who discovered Hawaii? It probably wasn’t Captain Cook. Hs ship arrived here in 1778, but there is no longer any doubt that the first humans to come here were Polynesian navigators from the Marquesas Islands and from Tahiti about 1,000 years ago. They crossed almost 2,000 miles of open ocean on large double-hulled voyaging canoes. And once these islands were populated, those ancient mariners sailed back and forth between their old home and the new. How’s that for seamanship!
There were TWO attacks on Pearl Harbor. Everyone knows about the Japanese attack on December 7th, 1941. But there was a second attack by two Japanese sea planes, each carrying just two bombs, one under each wing. They flew 2,000 miles from the Marshall Islands, arriving over Oahu in the early morning hours of March 2nd, 1942. Fortunately, the pilot of the lead plane became disoriented and the four bombs were dropped several miles from Pearl Harbor. No one was hurt, but there were fears of more attacks for the next several months. The two Japanese planes made it safely to French Frigate Shoals, a small island near the western end of the Hawaiian chain, where they were rescued by the Japanese Navy.
The most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army. In late 1942, the U.S. government announced the creation of the 100th Infantry Battalion and that Americans of Japanese Ancestry would be recruited for that unit. In Hawaii, 10,000 young men rushed to volunteer and from that group, some 2700 were accepted.
Several months later, the Army created a second unit—the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Like the 100th Battalion, the 442nd was almost entirely filled by young men of Japanese ancestry and almost all were volunteers from Hawaii.
After Basic Training in Mississippi was completed, the Hawaii boys were sent off to war—first to Italy, then to France.
During heavy fighting in the Vosges Mountains in Eastern France, a Texas battalion became cut off, was trapped, and on the verge of being wiped out. The 442nd was sent in to rescue the Texans. It took them five days, but the kids from Hawai‘i finally broke through the German lines and led what was left of the Texas unit to safety. But there was a cost: more than 800 of the Japanese kids from Hawaii were killed or wounded leading 211 Texas boys to safety.
By the end of the war, the two all-Japanese units from Hawaii had been awarded a total of 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, 9500 Purple Hearts, 5200 Bronze Stars and 588 Silver Stars. To say that to this day, we in Hawaii are incredibly proud ot those men is a vast understatement.
I cannot end this particular Fascinating Fact, however, without noting that the United States Army had insisted that all the units’ officers be white.