Back in February 2009, on a sightseeing trip with my mother-in-law, I stopped at Castle Junction in Kane‘ohe, Hawai‘i, to photograph the Kane‘ohe Ranch Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nearby was a small monument I had seen many times without stopping to examine it. I was curious about the relationship between one Earl M. Finch of Hattiesburg, Miss., and the AJA soldiers named on the stone, but I never followed up to find out more about him until this Veterans Day. Here are the words carved into the memorial when it was originally erected.
In Memoriam to the men of this community killed in action in World War II
Teruo Fujioka, Kahuku, Oct 26, 1944, France
Stanley K Funai, Waimanalo, Feb 8, 1944, France
Takemitsu Higa, Kahaluu, Dec 1, 1943, Italy
Genichi Hiraoka, Kaneohe, Jul 11, 1944, Italy
Edward Y Ide, Kaneohe, Nov 6, 1943, Italy
Haruo Kawamoto, Kailua, Feb 6, 1944, Italy
Sadao Matsumoto, Waimanalo, Jun 4, 1944, Italy
Kaoru Moriwake, Waikane, Nov 5, 1943, Italy
Shigenori Nakama, Kahuku, Apr 6, 1945, Italy
Yutaka Nezu, Waimanalo, Jan 10, 1944, Italy
Chuji Saito, Waimanalo, Apr 19, 1944, Italy
Takeo Shintani, Kahuku, Jul 6, 1944, Italy
Douglas Tamanaha, Waiahole, Nov 13, 1944, France
Shiro Togo, Kahuku, Oct 24, 1944, France
Presented to the Windward Oahu Community
by Earl M. Finch, Hattiesburg, Miss., March 28, 1946
June Watanabe tells more about Earl M. Finch in a Honolulu Star-Bulletin Kokua Line feature dated 17 March 2001, headlined ‘Patron saint’ of nisei soldiers became outcast.
Question: What happened to Earl Finch of Hattiesburg, Miss., who befriended the Japanese-American soldiers who were stationed in Hattiesburg during World War II? He made the soldiers feel at home when other Americans were turning their backs on them.
Answer: Finch died in his adopted home of Honolulu in 1965 at age 49.
At his funeral service at Central Union Church, then-Gov. John A. Burns delivered the eulogy before hundreds of mourners, including many veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion.
Finch was a rancher and businessman in Mississippi who became an outcast when he went out of his way to befriend the nisei soldiers in 1943.
He became known as a “one-man USO” (United Service Organization), “the Patron Saint of the Japanese-American GI” and “a citizen of the world.”
“Unpopular though it may have been with his neighbors, Earl recognized that those who were willing to make sacrifices in the face of adversity deserved no less than the hand of friendship,” Burns eulogized.
In 1946, after the war, many of the soldiers he befriended chipped in to pay his way to Hawaii, where he was given a hero’s welcome. At the time of his death, the Star-Bulletin noted that Finch’s arrival in Honolulu 55 years ago was “the biggest reception ever accorded a visiting private citizen.”
Among Japanese Americans, Finch was so beloved that many parents named their sons after him. Finch eventually made Hawaii his home, running a small trading company and acting as a talent broker.
Seiji Finch Naya, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, was an orphaned college student in Japan who met Finch when the college’s boxing team traveled to Hawaii in 1951.
Finch was so impressed with the young man, he sponsored a four-year scholarship to the University of Hawaii for Naya and eventually adopted him.
Finch also adopted another young man from Japan, Hideo Sakamoto.
Windward motorists may be familiar with the huge boulder, with a plaque, sitting on the makai side of Castle Junction.
Finch and Windward Oahu groups erected the memorial in honor of those who died fighting in World War II and, later, the Korean War.