Former POW's devotion never wavered
A brisk wind blew at the inurnment of Tsuyoshi "Nick" Nishimoto Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
It couldn't have been more fitting as the POW/MIA flag he carried so many times in support of his fellow ex-prisoners of war waved over the Punchbowl ceremony, allowing all in attendance to read the banner's motto: "You are not forgotten."
Nishimoto, who died in January at the age of 85, never forgot his fellow POWs as he carried the black and white flag to repatriation ceremonies at Hickam Air Force Base for more than a quarter-century.
As Hawaii coordinator for the American Ex-POW Association, he was perhaps the state's most ardent advocate for POWs and MIAs. He organized at least a dozen POW Week ceremonies in Honolulu, which were open to POW and MIA families from all wars.
"He was a great guy," said his son-in-law, Bill Watkins. "He loved America. He had great respect for his country and knew what sacrifice meant."
Al Streck, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and longtime friend, said Nishimoto rarely let his health problems get in the way of his work on behalf of POWs and MIAs.
"He would do anything for anybody. That was his MO," Streck said.
Nishimoto was a retired Safeway produce manager and former U.S. Army staff sergeant who served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
On Nov. 27, 1950, Pfc. Nishimoto was among 200 soldiers from Company B, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, who were captured north of Pyongan in an area called Unsan.
The prisoners were taken to the Yellow River and locked up at Camp 5, where 1,600 American soldiers died from disease and malnutrition over the next six months.
Speaking to students at Farrington High School in 2007, Nishimoto said his captors fed the POWs wheat and barley infested with worms, and he described just closing his eyes and shoving it down his throat.
Nishimoto said one of the toughest things he did as a POW was burying his best friend from basic training at Schofield Barracks, Albert S.K. Chang from Kapahulu, on a hillside.
For his service, Nishimoto received the POW Medal and the Bronze Star with V, signifying "participation in acts of heroism involving conflict with an armed enemy."
The Hilo-born Nishimoto was a hero even before he went off to war.
Granddaughter Risa Watkins said Friday that the waves swept his family's house inland during the 1946 tsunami that devastated Hilo. After escaping the rushing waters, he and his brother were able to commandeer a boat, and he was asked to find a missing young boy.
"He was a hero. He brought that 3-year-old back to shore," she said.
As a young man, Nishimoto worked at an Oahu pineapple cannery before he entered the Army in Honolulu, serving from 1948 to 1967.
Over the years, Nishimoto was an active member of the Korean War Veterans Association. He would also talk about his experience to whoever listened. Once, Streck said, his buddy told his story to the aviation battalion at Schofield Barracks.
Nishimoto is survived by daughters Mary Beth Cabatbat, Maria Boushell and Ruth Watkins; brother Ronald; plus 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.