WACO, Texas -
Takashi Kitaoka, LLB '40, Baylor Law's oldest alumnus, dies at age 104, and leaves behind a remarkably inspiring legacy.
On August 10, 2016, Judge Takashi Kitaoka was to be presented in Honolulu with the Distinguished Achievement Award. Bestowed on Baylor graduates who have made a distinct contribution to their particular profession, business, or vocation and in doing so have brought honor to Baylor, the presentation was to be made by Mr. Richard Willis, Baylor Regent and Chair of the Board of Regents for four terms from 2012 to 2016.
"Judge Kitaoka lived a remarkable life that truly exemplified the best of Baylor University," said Willis. "Always ready for the many challenges of life, he moved from a small village on Maui to attend Baylor Law School half a world away in Waco, Texas. He then fought in Italy as a soldier of the famous 100th Infantry Battalion during WWII which must have been an incredible test of his faith. He lived his life with integrity, focused upon justice. Judge Kitaoka was truly a man of action and honor," said Willis.
In a letter to accompany the presentation, Baylor Law School Dean Brad Toben wrote, "We have witnessed in your life a potent lesson about the character and quality of a great man." Judge Kitaoka passed away just one day before the award ceremony. In honor of his father, Judge Kiatoka's son Lloyd graciously accepted the award.
Judge Kitaoka is remembered as the first Maui-born judge to serve the Maui County circuit, a first sergeant who fought in the famed 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II, and an effective government official who was director of the state Labor Department.
"Judge Takashi Kitaoka's service to our community, state, and country was an inspiration to all," said Joseph Cardoza, chief judge of the 2nd Circuit, also a Maui-born jurist. "Through his service with the 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II, his work with the Veterans Administration in Hawaii, as the director of the Department of Labor, and his appointment as judge of the 2nd Circuit Court of Hawaii, Judge Takashi Kitaoka demonstrated himself to be a person who truly committed his life to bettering our world." said Cardoza. Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald also called Kitaoka "a true public servant, who dedicated his life to the people of Hawaii and our nation."
"He had the distinction of being the first Maui-born circuit court judge and was known for his fairness, integrity, and strong work ethic," said Recktenwald. "The Judiciary [family] is grateful to Judge Kitaoka for his distinguished service."
Appointed to the 2nd Circuit bench in 1962 by Republican Gov. William Quinn, Kitaoka's service continued until 1968. He was not reappointed by Democratic Gov. John Burns.
"That's the irony of politics," Kitaoka said in his oral history. "You see, Bill Quinn appointed me and when my term was up, the Democrats were in - of course you know Bill Quinn is a Republican. I became a Republican, too. But when my term was up, I was never reappointed. [John] Burns was the governor, so I was replaced."
He chalked up the events to politics, though he had hoped his "good work on Maui" would lead to his reappointment. "But that's not the way politics works," he said. "I expected that."
Kitaoka said he enjoyed his time as a judge, traveling to Molokai and Lanai as part of his duties.
"It was a very enlightening experience for me," he said. "I learned a lot."
Lloyd Kitaoka said that his father was proud of being the first local son to be appointed to the Maui County circuit bench. "He would mention it all the time," he said.
Kitaoka's time on the bench was just one facet of his life. He was the youngest of four sons born to Toraki and Sada Kitaoka, who came to Hawaii from Japan's Kumamoto prefecture. They worked for the Kaeleku Sugar Co. in Hana before opening a coffee shop in Kaeleku.
It was a spartan life. They lived in a two-bedroom home that had a kitchen with a wood stove and an icebox. There was no running water or electricity, which meant using an outhouse and kerosene lanterns for light at night, Kitaoka said in his oral history.
He traveled to most places on foot or horseback. When the road connecting Hana with Wailuku was built in 1926, he got his first look at the "big, big town" of Wailuku. Prior to the new road, he described the route to Central Maui as "a trail" that was unpaved.
Kitaoka attended Kaeleku and Hana schools, before boarding at Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu. After graduating from Mid-Pacific, he attended the University of Hawaii-Manoa, studying political science and sociology, and completing his degree in the midst of the Great Depression.
In 1937, Kitaoka received a scholarship to attend Baylor Law School in Waco, Texas, earning his law degree three years later. He returned to Hawaii in 1940 and was drafted into the Army.
Kitaoka also married Yuki Miwa that year. After 76 years of marriage, Yuki passed away in 2013 at the age of 99.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 would shake the lives of the newlyweds. The nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) in Kitaoka's unit were pulled from their regiment and shipped to the Mainland in June 1942 to form the 100th Infantry Battalion.
By August 1943, the 100th was sent to Italy. Kitaoka would battle the Germans in heavy fighting in Benevento, Volturno River, and Cassino. His battalion ranks were reduced from 187 to 28 men. During that time, he fell while dodging shells and broke his collarbone.
"That's the first time I got injured. . . there was constant shelling all the time," he said. "In an attempt to get away from that, I fell down," Kitaoka said. "When I fell, [my] helmet hit my collarbone and I couldn't breathe. I was down. The mud was about 10, 15 inches thick."
"When I got my breath back, I crawled to the aid station. . . they sent me back [to the hospital], and I was very happy about that, let me tell you."
After recovering, he returned to the brutal fronts at Anzio, in France and in northern Italy, and would fight until the war ended in May 1945.
In his reflections with the University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for Oral History, Kitaoka said that he's not sure if the war affected his life, but it did affect his thinking about "the horrors of war."
"Even now, I think about the boys who have to go to Iraq. . . and I feel for them. Because I put myself in their shoes and I know what they are thinking about, empathize with them. My experience in the war has made me a better man. Appreciate human qualities. I think that's very important."
Upon returning to the United States, Kitaoka was stationed in Illinois. After his honorable discharge from the military, he took and passed the Illinois bar exam and returned to Hawaii. He took positions with the Veterans Administration, the City and County of Honolulu prosecutor's office, and the state Labor Department, where he served as director from 1960-62. He also led the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.
After his appointment and service on the 2nd Circuit bench was over, Kitaoka moved his family to Oahu, where he was appointed director of the crime justice data system that had been newly established as part of the state Judiciary, which would be his last professional endeavor before retirement.
Through the years, Kitaoka remained active with his fellow veterans, serving as president of Club 100, the 100th Infantry Battalion veterans club.
"Dad lived a long and fruitful life and his contributions to society fill a long list," said his son Lloyd. "He was an extraordinary man from an extraordinary generation."
"I believe that the best and most enduring measure of what we do with our lives lies in the effect in service that we have upon the lives of others," wrote Dean Toben in the presentation letter. "Judge Kitaoka has had a profound impact upon untold numbers of people in his professional career in the law, including in his long and distinguished service on the bench and in his heroic military service in World War II."
From Dean Toben's letter and from the hearts of us all:
"Judge Kitaoka: Times of recognition and honor are also times of celebration and reminiscence on the experiences of a lifetime and the impact of life. We are filled with thankfulness for the gracious blessing you have been to Baylor, to Baylor Law, and to all whom have been touched by your life and service."
CONTACT: Berkley Knas
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or 214.810.1247
Originally written by Lee Imada, Managing Editor, The Maui News
Photos courtesy of Takashi Kitaoka and the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Nesei Project
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