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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Veterans Day parade draws 5,000

By Scott Ishikawa
Central O'ahu Writer

One-year-old Malie Johnson appears staunchly patriotic at the 55th annual Wahiawa Veterans Day Parade.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lynette Masitalo of Wahiawa felt compelled yesterday to show her true colors — red, white and blue — in honor of the military and the economic support the military provides her town.

"Without the military, Wahiawa would not be here today," said Masitalo, one of 5,000 spectators who came out for the 55th annual Wahiawa Veterans Day parade. Event organizers believe the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America spurred the biggest parade turnout ever.

With grandson Kaipo holding up a large American flag along the curbside, Masitalo explained how a large part of Wahiawa's economy depends on soldiers and civilian jobs at nearby Schofield Barracks and the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station at Whitmore Village.

"Our town used to be pineapple king, but now the small businesses look toward the military," said Masitalo, whose daughter is employed at a automotive-care center on Schofield.

The towns on O'ahu tied most closely to the military — Wahiawa, and Kane'ohe and Kailua — not only depend on military personnel for their livelihood, but identify with them and their families, particularly during the tough times.

Amid the drumbeat of war, and with virtually every unit subject to call-up at any time, this is one of those times, and Wahiawa residents were proud to turn out for "their troops" yesterday.

Parade spectator Vivian Kimura said: "I think this parade holds new meaning in these patriotic times. We want to show our appreciation for the relationship the military has had with Wahiawa, and we hope we have a positive impact on them."

While the Wahiawa parade is one of the longer-running Veterans Day marches on the island, in some years the event participants nearly equaled the number of spectators.

No more after Sept. 11.

Parade committee chairman Harry Kwon said an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 turned out for yesterday's event. About 65 units marched in the parade, nearly double what they had in recent years.

"I don't remember the last time it was so big," said Kwon, a member of the Wahiawa Lions that organizes the annual event. "About 2,000, 3,000 people is an average year for us."

Businesses in Wahiawa, Kailua and Kane'ohe have seen the financial ups and downs when nearby military personnel are sent off-island on various missions.

"The military is our bread and butter, I think more than most of the other communities," said Gordon Kanemaru, vice president of the Wahiawa Community and Business Association. "When the troops are away for a long time, Wahiawa can sometimes resemble a ghost town."

Kanemaru said about half of the patients at his family's dentist office are military personnel and their dependents.

Wahiawa old-timers recall when the deployment of Schofield Barracks troops in 1951 during the Korean War left the town in the doldrums. In recent years, local shop owners faced similar lulls when units from the Army's 25th Infantry Division were deployed for peacekeeping missions in Haiti and Somalia.

Harris Okuda, who runs Island Comforts surfing and skateboard store in Wahiawa, said businesses brace themselves when they hear rumors of upcoming deployments.

"You need to be prepared for it because at one point or another, it's going to happen," Okuda said.

Crandall Kobashigawa of Wahiawa Automotive along Kamehameha Highway said while he is fortunate that his car repair business has remained steady since Sept. 11, he has seen other area stores hit hard.

"I know it's been slow at some of the eateries," said Kobashigawa, who estimates that military customers make up about half of his safety checks and repairs.

"I think a lot of it has to do with soldiers having more difficulty getting on and off base," Kobashigawa said. Even restaurants making deliveries are finding it harder to access the military bases because of higher security.

In Kailua, Doug Izak, owner and operator of Gee A Deli, said sailors and Marines from Marine Corps Base Hawai'i at Kane'ohe have always frequented his delicatessen.

When Operation Desert Storm sent many of the Kane'ohe Marines and sailors to the Middle East in 1991, Izak's business, like many others in Kailua, took a nosedive.

Izak said he wouldn't want to go through that again. It took 10 years to rebuild his business to the 1991 high, and it has never fully recovered.

"I would hate to see them go again, but I think this time there's a good reason to defend us," he said.

Tuan Vo, who operates his family barber business, The Regulation at Aikahi Park Shopping Center, said Marines make up the majority of his clientele. He, too, remembers the effect the Gulf War had on the business, which was then run by his mother.

"She ran out of money after the first month and had to sell her house to pay the rent," Vo said.

The recent attacks on the United States and actions in Afghanistan have given Vo a better appreciation of America's military power.

"On this Veterans Day, the military looks even mightier," Vo said.

Staff writer Eloise Aguiar contributed to this report.

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429. Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluad vertiser.com or 234-5266.