Friday, May 4, 2018

The Ghost of Akeji "Norman" Morinaga

On Tuesday, September 12, 1950, U.S. Army Private Philip Hughes queued up with a squad of men to conduct a reconnaissance patrol in the South Korean wilderness west of Hill 300, near Kyongju.  Among his colleagues was Corporal Akeji "Norman" Morinaga, of Hawaii. The men of this patrol were ambushed by North Korean forces.  None of the Americans came back alive. 

Since recounting Philip Hughes's story in The Battle of Turkey Thicket, I keep finding shreds of documentation describing the people and events related to that dramatic time.  Only recently did I find this photo of Cpl. Morinaga.  His story is reconstituted mostly from digital newspaper clippings.  I had the good fortune of locating and corresponding with Cpl. Morinaga's niece, Gwen.  She graciously gave me some additional info. It is from all these sources that we encounter the "ghost" of Cpl. Morinaga.

Akeji was Nisei, that is, a first-generation American born of Japanese immigrants.  Eager to serve his country, the Hawaii native enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1945 at the age of 19, and received basic training at Schofield Barracks. Shortly after, Akeji signed up for linguistics duties, which necessitated his travel to the continental U.S., arriving at Ft. Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the end of World War II, however, the need for Japanese language interpretation all but disappeared.  No matter - Akeji apparently liked the Army and decided to re-enlist.  He learned the quartermaster trade, and in 1946, found himself managing supply logistics in Kobe, Japan, on behalf of the Army's occupation forces.  It was there that Akeji found a bride who eventually bore him a son.

While Akeji enjoyed this idyllic billet, the Korean War began in June 1950.  The U.S. Army found itself woefully unprepared to conduct war in many ways, not least of which was adequate manpower.  "Operation Flushout" was the Army's effort to gather rear-eschelon men who, regardless of occupational specialty, would become infantrymen bound for Korea with the stroke of a pen.  This explains Cpl. Morinaga's arrival at the base of South Korea's Hill 300 during the rainy night of September 8-9.  Here, he was assigned to Pvt. Philip Hughes's K Company, 19th Infantry Regiment. Only days later, both met their fate on patrol.

Cpl. Morinaga's remains were recovered and buried in Hawaii's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Many years ago, his grown son came to Hawaii to visit for the first time with his father's American family. Today, a great nephew bears the name "Akeji Morinaga," serving today in the Hawaii Army National Guard. Incidentally, Hawaii sacrificed more men in the Korean War (on a per capita basis) than any other U.S. state or territory.

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