LTC Walter M. Ozawa | February 1, 2016
From a reply by my father to an email inquiry about the word 'kotonk' for a possible radio feature.
My story is pretty unremarkable... Briefly, my parents emigrated to Hawaii in 1931. My father was a Zen Buddhist priest and was assigned to Wahiawa, Kauai (yes, same name as on Oahu), above the McBride Mill near Hanapepe. It is one of two of the oldest Zen temples in Hawaii. They had four children on Kauai, three sons and a daughter. When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, my father was arrested and taken to a local jail, then shipped to Oahu and then to the Mainland, where some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were also rounded up and sent to internment camps. The story of Japanese American internment is well-known. I have some written material in my office if you are interested. You may talk to author Tom Coffman about how and why only some people in Hawaii were chosen to be arrested and interned on the Mainland. It is a fascinating story about who were involved, including Governor Jack Burns.
My mother and my four Kauai-born siblings were also sent to the Mainland, initially to Jerome, Arkansas, and later at the war wound down in 1944, sent to the Tule Lake internment camp on the California-Oregon border. While my family was interned at Tule Lake, I was born in early January 1945. Thus, the comment, "involuntary kotonk." My older brothers and sister have recollections about the camp but I was too young to remember. We were returned to Hawaii, and Kauai, at the end of 1945. The war ended in August but troop ships were needed to bring them home first, as you might expect.
My younger brother was born the following year in late 1946, so we had six children born to my parents.
My parents restarted their lives on Kauai, and in 1951, were transferred to Waipahu, Oahu, to the other oldest Zen temple in Hawaii. I grew up on two sugar plantations so most people know me as a true local boy. And, other than the "kotonk" tag, I really am a local boy, with wonderful memories and experiences of growing up in sugar plantation camps!
My father died in 1974, the same year he retired. My mother lived to 97 and died in 2005.
All five sons served in the U.S. Army, and I was able to enjoy 30 years, active and Reserve, retiring as a Colonel. I joined the USAR's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment in 1970, and was one of very, very few officers to stay with the unit for as long as I did, rising from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel, and commanding this storied unit from 1980 to 1983, a year longer than most. Of course, this is a very famous unit in U.S. Army history so I don't need to bore you with its story. The rescue of the Lost Battalion in WWII is considered one of the most significant battles in the Army's history. The Army Museum at Fort DeRussy has a great gallery on this unit if you are interested. Free admission. (I'm a trustee of the Hawaii Army Museum Society.) I'm told that I'm was the youngest commander of this unit.
(By separate email, I'll send you my departure change of command speech for your information.)
The battalion has provided troops and officers for the Korean War and was activated for Vietnam, as well as the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The term "Kotonk" was given to the Mainland soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team by the Hawaii-born troops because of the initial animosity between them. Hawaii soldiers spoke pidgin and had very different attitudes about race relations than the Mainland soldiers who spoke "good" or "proper" English and had different attitudes about their racial standing. "Kotonk" is onomatopoetic for the sound of a hollow coconut when it hit the ground, hollow and hard-headed. Born on the Mainland, some old timers jokingly and affectionately call me a "Kotonk."