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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Sakae Takahashi, Democratic Party figure, dead at 81

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sakae Takahashi, retired attorney, World War II veteran and former territorial treasurer and state senator, died Monday in Honolulu. He was 81.

Sakae Takahashi was among Japanese American veterans and others who helped rejuvenate Hawai'i's Democratic Party in the 1950s.

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Takahashi was born in the tiny plantation town of Makaweli, Kaua'i, on Dec. 8, 1919. He graduated from Waimea High School in 1937 and was a member of the University of Hawai'i ROTC.

He entered the Army in 1941 and was an original member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the forerunner of what later became the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Takahashi rose from the rank of 1st lieutenant to captain of Company B.

The 100th fought in some of the bloodiest operations in Italy and France and was nicknamed the "Purple Heart Battalion." The battalion received three Presidential Unit Citations, the highest honor for an individual unit.

Takahashi himself received the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a member of the 442nd, said Takahashi was a "great American." When Takahashi was married in 1946, Inouye was Takahashi's best man.

"He was a leader in the executive branch, at the Legislature, on the battlefield and in the boardroom," Inouye said. "What I admired most, however, was that he was a good husband and father."

Stanley Akita, president of Club 100, said Takahashi was the battalion's best commander, a "brilliant tactician, outmaneuvering the enemies. He is one of the most well-liked members of the Club 100, always willing to help."

After the war, Takahashi earned a law degree from Rutgers University and returned to Hawai'i in 1948 to begin his practice.

Two years later, Takahashi began his political career when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of Honolulu. In 1951, Takahashi became the first American of Japanese ancestry to serve on the territorial government cabinet when he was appointed treasurer by Gov. Oren Long.

In 1954, Takahashi was elected to the territorial Senate and joined other nisei veterans and business leaders in rejuvenating Hawai'i's Democratic Party. He was elected to the first state Senate in 1959 and served for 20 years.

Takahashi also was an astute business man and was one of the founders of Central Pacific Bank in 1954. He served on numerous boards, including Hawaiian Airlines, Investors Equity Life Insurance Co., and the Hawaii Islanders minor league baseball team.

Longtime friend Shurei Hirozawa said Takahashi showed leadership skills from their days on the Kaua'i plantation.

"Quiet and determined, Sakae was a man of conviction," Hirozawa said. "We have lost a great humanitarian."

In 1993, Takahashi was honored by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun for helping establish Central Pacific Bank and for his work as director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i. He retired as a director of the bank and chairman of the parent company CPB Inc. in 1990.

Takahashi is survived by his wife, Bette; sons, Mark and Brian; daughters, Karen, and Kathryn Teruya; brother, Kenichi "Ken"; sisters, Hisae "Elsie" Yamashita and June Yamasaki; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. Monday at Nu'uanu Mortuary, with service at 11 a.m.