Feature Stories

A Vision Fulfilled: WWII veteran Ikito Muraoka reflects on his “blessed” life

Ikito “Ike” Muraoka as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II, circa 1943, shortly before he was ordered to become a combat medic and given only one week of medical training.When Ikito “Ike” Muraoka was a freshman at Kauai High School in 1936, he never could have guessed that as the result of a hunting accident, he would be given a glimpse into his future.


Looking much younger than his 93 years, with a calm demeanor and a rich baritone voice, Ike recalls that fateful morning clearly.


He and one of his brothers drove from their home in Koloa, on the south shore of the island, to Mahaulepu Valley to hunt pheasants.


While Ike’s brother was standing on a knoll a short distance away, their dog flushed a pheasant out of the brush. The bird flew up and fluttered in the air between the two boys.


“I raised my shotgun and that’s the last I knew — because I was shot,” Ike says.


The bird had blocked his brother’s view of him. Pellets peppered the left side of Ike’s body, from his abdomen down though his left leg, his right leg, and he was bleeding profusely.


His brother carried him from the valley to their car, which was parked about half a mile away, then drove him to Koloa Hospital, a sugar plantation-owned hospital.


“While I was in a semi-conscious state, I had this incredible vision that I went off to war, was wounded, came back, got married and fathered two daughters,” he says.


From Soldier to Medic

 

Five years later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States and Hawaii into World War II. Like thousands of Nisei (first generation of Japanese born in America), Ike volunteered for the United States Army. The Army accepted him, even though most of the pellets from the hunting accident were still lodged in his body.


“They didn’t examine me too well,” he says, understating the military’s desperation for more bodies — and the Nisei’s determination to prove their loyalty to the country of their birth.


“What was hurtful was that the youngsters that I attended grammar school and high school with, they turned against us Japanese. We were suspected and treated as enemies,” he says. “We just wanted to prove that we were Americans. Our hearts were American.”


Ike became a member of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team that was soon combined with members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, comprised of former members of the Hawaii National Guard. Together they became known as the 100th/442nd. One of Ike’s older brothers served in the 100th.


The 15,000 soldiers of the 100th/442nd were sent to some of the bloodiest battles of the war, fought valiantly, and suffered tremendous loss of life. With their “Go For Broke” motto, the 100th/442nd became the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history, earning more than 18,000 individual decorations for bravery, including two Presidential Unit Citations.


In 1944, 200 members of the 442nd were shipped from the U.S. to Naples, Italy.


Ike was one of six men in that group who were placed in an impossible situation: After being trained to kill as combat soldiers, they were ordered to become combat medics.


“When we got shipped overseas, that’s when they told us. We had no choice,” he says, ruefully. “How do you train somebody overnight to do something as complex as being a medic? We were given about one week of training.


“You know what sticks in my mind? That I lost a dear friend during the war because I did not know enough medicine.”


Later that year, in Civitavecchia, Italy, near Rome, Ike was wounded as artillery shells began falling while his unit advanced on a hill. He was in a hospital for nearly one month, “then they sent me back to the unit again,” he says.


The entire regiment was sent to fight in southern France, where the men were ordered to save the “Lost Battalion,” a group of 211 Texas soldiers who had been stranded for days on a ridge in France, surrounded by German soldiers. The 100th/442nd successfully broke through the German line, but in five days of fighting, lost 800 men in the rescue.


For his wartime service, Ike earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and, in 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded 66 years after WWII ended to all members of the 100th/442nd and the Military Intelligence Service.


“I never regretted my decision to volunteer for the war, but I was devastated when I lost my close friends,” he says. “I was very fortunate that I came back alive, but thousands of my comrades sacrificed their lives for this country.”


The first segment of his hunting accident vision was completed.

 

Meeting Nancy

 

Once he returned home to Kauai, Ike suffered from bouts of “shell shock,” now referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or PTSS, from his wartime experiences. 


But he soon found a very pleasant diversion: a lovely young Japanese woman named Nancy, who was living at home with her father and siblings. (Nancy’s mother died when she was only two years old.)


“He pretended he was coming to see my brother, who had also recently come home from the war, but I think he was coming to see me,” says Nancy, now 88 years old, and radiating kindness.

Ike and Nancy Muraoka on their 50th wedding anniversary Sixty-nine years later, Ike tries to play it cool with a noncommittal smile, but his dimples give him away.


“I really didn’t think much about his visits at first,” Nancy says. “But when he
started to come and see me where I was working, I suspected that something was on his mind.

"I think when the men came back from the war, they were all looking for somebody they could marry.”


Soon Ike, and some friends who were also veterans, began attending Honolulu Business College on Oahu. Ike and Nancy continued their romance across the 90 miles of ocean between the islands.


Then in 1946, Ike made a very important phone call: “I proposed to her from Honolulu by phone,” he says.


“I said ‘yes’ on the phone but I didn’t tell anybody. He was coming by boat to see my father, bring a fish and ask for my hand. It’s the old-fashioned style, the way the Japanese think," Nancy says. "I don't recall what type of fish it was, but it was a red fish."


After Nancy’s father gave his blessings, the couple returned to Honolulu together so Ike could resume his college career, and so they could get married on Oahu.


Ike had accomplished the second portion of his life vision that he received on the day of the hunting accident.

 

Longing for Kauai

 

After college, Ike worked as the assistant paymaster for the Clark-Halawa Rock Company, then later worked his way up to Chief Clerk at Young Bros., Hawaii's primary inter-island shipping company.


The couple’s two daughters were born in Honolulu, completing the third and final portion of the vision he had after the hunting accident.


But Ike found himself longing for Kauai.


“One day, without telling Nancy, I quit my job,” he says.


“I had the refrigerator door open when he told me,” she says. “I just stood there holding the door, with my mouth wide open.”


Though they had both grown up on Kauai, she the ninth of 10 children and he also one of 10; Nancy wasn’t overjoyed to return to a place “where the streets all rolled up at 5 p.m.” But relocate they did, with Nancy eventually beginning a 22-year career at the Waiohai Hotel, then owned by Grace and Lyle Guslander, esteemed hoteliers who also owned the famed Coco Palms Hotel.


Ike, meanwhile, applied for an opening on the Kauai Police Department, where he began as a foot patrolman. “I worked myself up to be a court officer, a liaison between the police department and the prosecutor’s office,” he says. “I served a total of 16 years on the force.”


One of the court judges that Ike worked with was Norito Kawakami, a member of the Kauai family that had launched a grocery store chain, Big Save Markets (now owned by Times Supermarkets). Judge Kawakami invited Ike to join his family’s business.


Working in private industry was a big change for Ike. While the grocery store chain was growing, he put in 12-to-16 hour days, worked weekends and some holidays. During his longest days, Nancy drove from Koloa to Eleele to bring him dinner.

Ikito Ike Muraoka's police commissioner's badge As he helped the company grow, Ike worked his way up to Vice President of Finance, and served on the board of directors, before retiring.


But it was being appointed as the first former police officer to serve on the Kauai County Police Commission that is one of Ike’s proudest achievements. He served on the commission for eight years, two of those as chairman.


“It was rewarding work in the sense that I was able to contribute from my 16 years experience with the police department,” he says.

 

Blessings

 

Now, when Ike and Nancy look back on their long lives, the word they both use to describe their experiences is “blessed.”


“I am blessed to be alive, when so many of my buddies died in the war,” Ike says. “I’m blessed for having Nancy and our children, grandchildren and one great grandchild.”


Though the couple recently moved from their home of 50 years in Koloa to the retirement living community Regency at Pua Kea in Lihue — a big adjustment for both of them — Nancy says they are extremely grateful for the “loving and caring staff” at Regency.


Ike says his secret to living so long is that, “Nancy keeps me going.” As does his gratitude for his entire life.


“I feel blessed that I have been so fortunate that I’m here talking to you.”

 Ike and Nancy Muraoka outside their residence at Regency at Pua Kea retirement community in Lihue. The couple met after he returned home to Kauai following World War II, and celebrated 69 years of marriage in May.

Ike and Nancy Muraoka outside their residence at Regency at Pua Kea retirement community on Kauai. The couple met after he returned home to Kauai following World War II, and celebrated 69 years of marriage in May 2015. 

 

Comments

Shawn Hosaka
August 27, 2015 @10:48 am
Thank you so much for such a great story! Mr. Muraoka is truly a hero that we can all look up too. Just the mention of the famed 442nd Regimental Battalion makes me get "chicken skin"! They were a heroic bunch of japanese Americans. Thank you Mr. Muraoka for your bravery and service to our Country and thank you Mrs. Muraoka for being the solid foundation on which your husband built his family on. Thank you Muraoka's!
Maryanna
August 26, 2015 @11:34 am
What an amazing story. This is an excellent book in every aspect.
Tom Brown
August 23, 2015 @04:01 pm
A very enjoyable article that adds to the rich history of Kauai! Many thanks to Ikito Muraoka for letting Pam tell his story.
Gabriela Taylor
August 23, 2015 @02:21 pm
I am touched by this beautiful story about people whom I never met. Thanks for the insight into their lives as well as the photo of them looking so happy and healthy- continuing a life well lived.
Kim Medeiros
August 23, 2015 @11:52 am
I've known the Muraoka's for a while when I used to take care of their little dog. They are a wonderful couple! I had no idea about their fascinating history. Thank you for that story!
Sharon Lasker
August 23, 2015 @10:13 am
Thank you for such a beautifully written story on Ike and Nancy. They are one of the sweetest couples I've ever known. We feel blessed to have them as part of the Puakea family. I am personally a better person for knowing them and their story. They ARE inspirational!
Lynn Aylward-Bingman
August 23, 2015 @09:47 am
A wonderful,heartwarming story. So glad these fascinating stories of our Kauai people are being memorialized. Mahalo nui loa!
Ken Hughes
August 23, 2015 @07:19 am
I hope Ike finally got those pellets removed! A car that could go Mahaulepu in 1936! Great job!
Ingrid Lundquist
August 23, 2015 @05:39 am
Thanks for capturing this wonderful story with your great writing.
Ray
August 23, 2015 @05:26 am
A fascinating story well told.I believe one of Ike's younger brothers, Minoru, was my Koloa School and Kauai High classmate. Somehow this shy lad--now desceased--got Walt Disney's "Dopey" as his nickname and so autographed my senior yearbook so it obviously didn't upset Minoru.A fine Koloa family.
Cathi Moro
August 23, 2015 @04:56 am
Very interesting story, and uplifting.
Jocelyn Fujii
August 23, 2015 @12:22 am
What a wonderful read! Well-written, evocative and with a gréât deal of heart. Thank you for keeping thèse stories alive, and for honoring the people of Kauaʻi.
Marissa Sugano
August 11, 2015 @10:36 pm
Such a well written article on my grandparents! Helped me have a different perspective on their lives and what my grandfather experienced. Thank you!
Pat Mihara
August 11, 2015 @09:19 am
Thank you for writing such a lovely article about dad (and mom)! It brought tears to my eyes!!
Victoria Kiikuni
August 08, 2015 @09:21 pm
These are my parents. This was so well written and I just want to thank you very much for doing such a great job.

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