CHARLES R. HEMENWAY
Let's REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii's military governor General Delos Emmons and FBI Director Robert Shivers sought out Charles Hemenway's advice and counsel on the crisis. Although President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Knox pleaded and demanded that mass evacuations of Japanese from Hawaii be undertaken, General Emmons never complied.
Ted Tsukiyama wrote: "In February 1942, when several hundred University ROTC cadets were discharged from the Hawaii Territorial Guard because of their Japanese ancestry and immediately petitioned General Emmons to be allowed to serve as a non-combat labor battalion, Charles Hemenway publicly endorsed and supported this demonstration of Nisei loyalty. The military governor's acceptance of the petition led to the organization of the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV). Hemenway stood on the steps of Hawaii Hall on February 25, 1942, to send the VVV boys off to service; then eleven months later, in January 1943, when the VVV disbanded to volunteer for the 442nd and Military Intelligence Service, he extended this congratulatory message to his VVV boys."
His remarks were these: "You have carried on through your first year with the same spirit of loyalty which was the basis for your offer to serve in whatever way the Commanding General could use your help. You have held fast to your ideals. You have made an outstanding record and have won the respect and admiration of many who were doubtful of the stand which you citizens of Japanese ancestry would take. You have fully justified the confidence of those of us who knew that you are as loyal as any other citizens of different racial descents. I am proud of what you have done."
Later in 1942, Charles Hemenway wrote a letter to his VVV boys thanking and encouraging them for their loyal service to the country saying: "… from reports I have had the VVV's have continued to make a fine record and deep impression on the rest of the community and are making a real contribution to our war effort. More and more of our fellow citizens are beginning to understand that your loyalty to our country is just as real as theirs and are also beginning to see that it is given under conditions which are definitely hard and unfair. You are fighting for an ideal and that is worth all the personal sacrifices which you are making. This war can only be won by those who are fighting for liberty and justice to all - and all means everyone of every race. The old notions of superior and inferior races has been proved wrong and must be discarded in the thinking of all of us. No individual and no race has any monopoly of those traits of character which in combination make good citizens. Understanding, tolerance, integrity, justice and friendliness always win in the end, as they always have and will again. You men are in my thoughts every day and you probably do not realize how deeply I appreciate the daily proof you are giving that my confidence in you has been more than justified."
Of the many youthful lives he touched and positively affected, none was more powerfully uplifted and motivated by Hemenway than the offspring of Chinese and Japanese immigrants from the plantations and urban ghettos of Hawaii. Their dreams of acceptability as Americans and "making it in America" were encouraged and validated by this solid bulwark of Americanism.
Ralph Yempuku, embittered by his discharge from the Hawaii Territorial Guard because of his ancestry wrote of Hemenway's advice: "He listened to my story and told me that he didn't blame me if I sat back and finished the war at the University but that it would make him proud to see me join the VVV and that he thought I should consider the future and go ahead and present my other cheek, so to speak. I took his advice and have never regretted it."
In 1947, following Charles Hemenway's death, the Hawaii Herald printed the following editorial eulogy:
In the dark and tragic days at the beginning of the war, at a time when the West Coast was succumbing to racial hysteria and engaging in the sad experiment of 'relocation', there was a distinct danger that Hawaii, too, might succumb to the same disease. Many community leaders were openly - and we suppose, honestly - doubtful of the loyalty of residents of Japanese extraction. A larger group, who had worked harmoniously with their Oriental friends before the war, were hesitant about 'sticking their neck out' and maintained a wait-and-see policy. For a while things hung in delicate balance.
But Charles Hemenway wasn't afraid to 'stick his neck out.' He knew, out of his long, extensive, and intimate acquaintance with 'his boys' at the University, that these boys were as loyal Americans as could be found anywhere in the nation. And he did not hesitate to say so. His influential position in the community, his wide and varied contacts, his unquestioned integrity, his logical reasoning, and his cool-headed conviction carried weight in critical quarters. His unflagging zeal and clear-headed advice helped immeasurably in setting up the Morale Committees which were so helpful in bringing adjustment and understanding to a community torn by doubts and apprehensions…
Hawaii might have gone down the sorry road of undemocratic discrimination, as California did. We were at the cross-roads in that terrible December and it was largely due to Mr. Hemenway's courage and influence that Hawaii took the right turn instead of the wrong one… The entire community, and the nation, owe him a debt of gratitude for his part in persuading us that we were justified in trying out the democratic ideals we had professed.
Excerpts taken from: Charles Reed Hemenway, 1875-1947 by Ted Tsukiyama
Charles Hemenway (center)
presiding over the Board of Queens Medical Center
The Bible translation of Rev. Asa Hemenway (grandfather of Charles Hemenway)
into the Thai language.
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