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Humble vet tirelessly serves his brothers in arms

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BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

Tommy Tahara Pictured at right chatting with fellow veteran Henry Furuya at the weekly meeting of the Korean War Veterans Association, Hawaii Chapter 1, at Like Like Drive Inn.

Tommy Tahara left Maui after he graduated high school in 1949, joined the Army, and was sent first to Japan and then to fight in Korea in 1950.

He took part in the famous Inchon Landing on South Korea’s west coast, and his unit, the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, fought all the way into North Korea to the Yalu River on the border with China.

“It was all frozen. It was really bad because we didn’t have all the (right) equipment,” Tahara recalled. “So a lot of us got frostbite.”

That was when over a quarter-million Chinese troops massed on the Yalu River started attacking, making life a lot worse.

“Oh, they were just like a horde of guys, just yelling, screaming, with the bugles and all that,” the 86-year-old said.

These days, Tahara’s life still involves the Korean War, but now it’s focused on camaraderie and assisting with the Korean War Veterans Association, Hawaii Chapter 1, a social and business organization that draws together the men who served in one of the nation’s most unrecognized wars.

The Hawaii Kai resident does so much for the organization that fellow Korean War veteran Stan Fujii nominated him as a “Hero Next Door.”

“He is the hero. He does everything,” Fujii said. In a letter, Fujii rattled off a list:

“He registers new members, collects member fees, purchases and delivers their uniforms. He contacts members and coordinates participation in events sponsored by the Korean Consulate General of Honolulu. He advises when a member is hospitalized or passes on and ensures that appropriate welfare and bereavement monies are provided to a sick member or next of kin. He advises of the date, time and place of funerals after contacting the deceased member’s family. He purchases wreaths and leis for Veterans Day and Korean War commemoration ceremonies.”

That’s only a partial list of Tahara’s efforts. Not a lot of flashy stuff, but Fujii said Tahara isn’t that kind of guy. More on the quiet and humble side, he said.

Not surprisingly, Tahara said it was “kind of embarrassing” to be interviewed about his efforts.

Tahara said he got involved with KWVA in the late 1990s. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier for 44 years with a route in the Manoa area.

“We started off with a motorcycle with a sidecar,” he recalled. He also remembers four to five dogs chasing him at once, and getting bit six times.

“There was one guy (in KWVA), his name was Richard Higa. He was the treasurer for 19 years. He used to do everything like I do now, so I said, ‘I gotta help this guy,’” Tahara said.

The KWVA vets still get together for breakfast every Tuesday at Like Like Drive Inn, and at a recent get-together, Sharon Amoi was sitting at the table of about 16 men in honor of her father, Francis Yasu­take, who died in 2012.

“This man works so hard. He has so much heart,” Amoi said of Tahara. “All of them — they support each other. They love each other. I think they give each other strength.”

Some of the wives come out too, but they were sitting at an adjacent table. That included Tahara’s wife, Mae, to whom he’s been married for 61 years.

Asked why they don’t sit at the same table with the men, Tahara said with a laugh, “The wives, they like to talk rumors. That’s how it is.”

He likes to spend time with fellow Korean War veterans because “we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Actually, we only come here (to Like Like Drive Inn) to socialize. We don’t talk politics.”

Tahara said he’s “like an administrator” now, but he’ll be treasurer as of Jan. 1, a task he already seems to have.

The group recently had a banquet and he had the ledger with expenses with him.

“I gotta do all this kine now — spreadsheet — I gotta do that. I didn’t know how to use computer, but he and I, we used to go to a class,” Tahara said, gesturing to fellow vet Henry Furuya, 88.

Tahara said he doesn’t have time to slow down with old age and ailments.

“Right now, I already made, for the next December, I made plans for our next Christmas party at the (Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii). I already got the menu. It’s $64 per person,” Tahara said.

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