Korean War veterans open group to younger comrades

KAHULUI – To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, about 150 Maui veterans and surviving family members of deceased veterans were honored with certificates of appreciation for their service Friday afternoon at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

The conflict, often known as “The Forgotten War,” claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans and left more than 100,000 wounded.

The Maui Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association was once open only to those who served during the Korean War, but the aging members of the association have opened its doors to all veterans who served in Korea during the war and since.

Founded in 2000 by Abel Cravalho, the Maui Chapter has about 45 members – not far from its original membership of more than 50. However, the organization has sought to welcome younger members and ensure its survival.

“Now we’re going to be going, because we’re all in our 80s,” said Cravalho, who served in the 1st Marine Division. “So we’re preparing, and we want to develop it and keep it going.”

First Vice President Warren Nishida passed out application forms at the event, explaining to interested veterans that they must join the national Korean War Veterans Association and bring their acceptance paper to a Maui Chapter meeting in order to join the group.

“There’s a lot of potential out here,” said the 32nd Division veteran. “I think I passed out about 15 applications.”

Aside from changing the membership requirements of the organization, Cravalho also wanted to make clear its purpose.

“I have friends that were in Korea with me but have no interest in joining, and that’s OK. They have their own lives,” said the Kula resident. “But you see, when we get together we don’t talk about the Korean War. Far from it. We do things for the community and get out and socialize.

“It’s not to talk war stories.”

Some of the group’s volunteer work includes the making of more than 3,000 lei for today’s Memorial Day service at Makawao Veterans Cemetery. Members were among a group of 200 volunteers who strung lei Friday morning in front of the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku.

“To be honest with you, right now throughout the state, I think we’re the most active,” Cravalho said. “We got a good bunch of guys; I’m telling you we do a lot.”

Tommy “Blinky” Sato, who was honored Friday for his service with the 24th Division, said that the organization has helped groups including Maui High School and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Makawao with fundraisers and luaus. The group has also led projects to clean the Waiehu Korean Cemetery and the St. Anthony Church Catholic Cemetery.

“One of the big projects we have is attending schools and going into social studies classrooms as part of the Tell America program,” Sato said of the national Korean War Veterans Association program that educates students on the Korean War and its consequences. “In April, a group of us told the JROTC students at Baldwin High School about the war and whoever else wanted to listen.”

“We get extreme compliments from other groups and organizations,” Nishida said. “When we plan to do things, we complete it with no arguments among our membership. When we plan to do things, we do it.”

The group hosts meetings the third Wednesday of every month at the Kahului Community Center and hopes to have more than 50 members by the end of the year.

“I think the main thing we want to get out to the public and Korean veterans is that they should join and they are most welcomed,” Cravalho said.

Eligibility to join the Maui Chapter is extended to those who served in Korea from 1950 to the present day. Annual dues are $22, part of which pays for snacks at chapter meetings.

For more information on how to join the Maui Chapter, call Nishida at 878-1247.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.