Hawaiian Noir

Murder Calls

The Summit of Mauna Kea

Quick question: What is the tallest mountain in the world? Hint: It’s not Mt. Everest. It is Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai‘I. Mauna Kea stands 13,976 feet above sea level, whereas Mt. Everest rises to 29,035 feet above sea level. However, Mauna Kea’s base is on the sea floor, 19,700 feet below. More than half of Mauna Kea’s height is below the surface of the Pacific. In total,Mauna Kea’s height is 33,676 feet, nearly a mile taller than Mt. Everest.

How is this possible you ask? Mt. Everest clearer reaches higher into the upper atmosphere. Yes, it goes higher, but that’s because it started higher. Consider a movie starring Sigourney Weaver, who is six feet tall, and Tom Cruise who, at five feet seven inches, is five inches shorter than Sigourney. In order to make it appear that he is equal to, or taller than, Sigourney, the director might have Sigourney stand in a ditch in the scenes they are together. Does that make Cruise taller? No. He is still shorter than she is. The heights don’t change.

It is interesting to note that even though Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, it is not the largest. That honor belongs to Mauna Kea’s sister, Mauna Loa, also on the Big Island. Mauna Loa has the largest volume of all the mountains in the world. Mauna Loa is also taller than Mt. Everest, but 110 feet shorter than Mauna Kea.

Both mountains are volcanos, formed when the Pacific plate moved over a hot spot in the Earth’s crust. All the Hawaiian Islands are volcanic and were formed in the same way. The island chain stretches all the way to Midway island. The crescent shape of the chain is what indicates that they were formed by plate movement. Mauna Kea’s last eruption took place about 2460 BC. Mauna Loa’s last eruption occurred in 1984 AD.

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Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea opening at dusk

Mauna Kea is an astronomer’s paradise. It has high altitude, low humidity, and high visibility due to its distance from light sources. There are currently thirteen telescopes Mauna Kea, which makes it the best place to view the universe. A fourteenth telescope is planned. It has been the subject of dispute by Native Hawaiians and a source of contention in the state, but recently the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a permit to build the telescope. It is expected to cost $1.4 billion. The opposition is not over, however, and there are likely to be many more delays.You can read about it here in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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Cold on Mauna Kea

The summit of Mauna Kea is about a two-hour drive up the access road from the Daniel K Inouye Highway. There is a visitor’s center at about the 9,000 foot level. The road is paved to the visitor’s center. Beyond that, visitor’s need four-wheel drive. Ascending to the summit is dangerous for several reasons. First, two hours is insuffient to acclimate yourself to the altitude. As a result, anyone going to the summit is strongly advised to spend a half-hour to an hour at the visitor’s center before moving on. They are also advised to drink warm liquids such as soup and hot chocolate. If you are submitting with a tour, the tour will stop for the required length of time and will provide the liquids. Second, the grade is steep and the turns are sharp. Even if you are in a four-wheel drive, you need to know how to handle it. It is easy to burn out the breaks on the way down and several people die each year from that. In one incident just a few weeks before we went to the summit, a vehicle lost its brakes coming down and the driver tried to slow down by using the vehicle ahead to stop him. It didn’t work and the occupants of both vehicles lost their lives.

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The shadow of Mauna Kea on the top of the clouds below

We took a tour to the top. If you are on the Big Island, a tour is a must. The sunset from the top of Mauna Kea is spectacular. As the sun goes down, you will see the shadow of the mountain on the layer of clouds below. Once the sun is down, the stars are truly amazing. However, because of the altitude, your vision changes. Intraocular pressure, in particular, changes, which makes it harder to see the stars than at a lower altitude. As a result, your best view of the stars is lower at the visitor’s center. In addition, the visitor’s center sets up small telescopes to public viewing. The astronomer’s in the observatories are not affected by the altitude because they are viewing the stars through their instruments, not directly.

Go For Broke

More about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II

In France, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was attached to the 36th division of the Seventh Army under the command of Major General John Dahlquist. After ten days of brutal fighting at the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine in Eastern France near the German border, the 442nd received two days of rest before being thrust into the rescue of the Lost Battalion, one of the top ten battles in US Army history. Dahlquist set the stage by ordering another division of the 36th, the 141st Texas Regiment, known as “T-Patchers” for their uniform insignia, to advance into the Vosges forest four miles past friendly forces. The Texans warned Dahlquist that they would be trapped, but he sent them anyway. The area had been fortified for several years by the Germans, who were under orders to hold the position at any cost. As the Texans predicted, the Germans closed the trap, stranding more than 200 Texans on a ridge with dwindling supplies and ammunition.

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Insignia of the 141st

Unable break through the German lines with other units of the 36th and unable to resupply the Texans, Dahlquist ordered the 442nd to effect a rescue. On October 25th, low on men from the previous fighting, the 442nd moved in. They made little progress because the terrain, the weather, and German resistance. The area was heavily forested, criss-crossed with steep ravines and narrow, sodden logging trails, which were mined and barricaded. The Germans were well entrenched. The 442nd had to clear the area tree by tree. Tanks and artillery were not effective. The 442nd had to fight with what they could carry: rifles, grenades, bazookas, machine guns, automatic rifles, and pistols. Weather played a big factor. It was cold and rainy, with dense fog and nights that were so dark, the men had to hold onto one another to remain in file. The Germans fought fiercely. The 442nd made little headway. By October 29th, the 141st was in desperate straights.

Pinned down behind trees and in foxholes, the 442nd appeared to be at a stalemate. Companies I and K of 3rd Battalion had their backs against a wall. Then one by one they rose and charged the Germans, yelling BANZAI, with fixed bayonets and firing from the hip. They attacked through machine gun and artillery fire, and exploding trees. Nisei fell on all sides, but they continued the charge up the hill, finally overrunning the Germans. On October 30, the 3rd Battalion broke through and rescued 211 T-Patchers. The toll for the 442nd in five days was over 800 men killed or wounded. I Company, which had initiated the Banzai charge, was down to eight men from 185 five days before.

“Comrades who are slain
In our charge on the ridge
Have not died in vain
But forged through heroism a bridge
For all Japanese Americans to cross
This was I Company’s fate.
To prevail with heavy loss
And then there were eight.”
– Lloyd Tsukano

Medals of Honor

Hajiro, Barney F.
Born: September 16, 1916, Maui, Hawai‘I.
Died: January 21, 2011, Waipahu, Hawai‘I
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Two months after Pearl Harbor, Hajiro was drafted into an engineering battalion. In 1943, he volunteered for the 442nd. He repeatedly distinguished himself in the fighting around Bruyeres and Biffontaine. Then on October 29, in the Vosges Mountains, he single-handedly destroyed two German machine gun emplacements. For seven months, he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.

Medal of Honor citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life beyond and the call of duty: Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and October 29, 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on October 19, 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On October 22, 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On October 29, 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.

Sakato, George Taro
Born: February 19, 1921, Colton, California
Died: December 15, 2015, Denver Colorado
Rank: Private
Unit: Company E, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Sakato’s family moved to Arizona to avoid internment during World War II. Sakato joined the Army in March 1944 and volunteered for the 442nd.

Medal Of Honor Citation

Private George T. Sakato distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 29 October 1944, on hill 617 in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France. After his platoon had virtually destroyed two enemy defense lines, during which he personally killed five enemy soldiers and captured four, his unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire. Disregarding the enemy fire, Private Sakato made a one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy strongpoint. While his platoon was reorganizing, he proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counter-attack on the left flank during which his squad leader was killed. Taking charge of the squad, he continued his relentless tactics, using an enemy rifle and Walther P-38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack. During this entire action, he killed 12 and wounded two, personally captured four and assisted his platoon in taking 34 prisoners. By continuously ignoring enemy fire, and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit, he turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission. Private Sakato’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

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