caught a Korean Air Lines flight to Hawaii the next day. I had one more pilgrimage to make. I hadn't been back to my birthplace at Aiea Naval Hospital overlooking Pearl Harbor since I was a baby.
same time I was born in November 1947, a young Hawaiian was finishing his schooling at Waianae, on the southwest coast of Oahu.
Herbert K. Pililaau was a gentle boy known to everyone in his small home
town. He was born October 10, 1928, into a family of nine brothers and five sisters. His father, William "Jack" Pililaau, was a famous Hawaiian cowboy.
On September 17, 1951, only days before his
23rd birthday, while serving with Company C of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, Pililaau was killed in action at Heartbreak Ridge.Bob Krauss, a columnist with the Honolulu Advertiser, wrote a story about my attempt
to find the Pililaau family, and calls flooded the switchboard of my hotel. Captain Joe Holt of the Honolulu Airport Fire Department made the first call at 5:30 A.M., and volunteered to guide me to the
We sat on a porch in Waianae, a soft wind blowing through the trees and bushes, the exotic smells of flowers everywhere. Coconut trees framed the driveway. The sky was a classic blue with fluffy
white clouds, and the mountains in the distance made for a very peaceful morning. Agnes Pililaau Kim is known in the family as sister #5.
She told me her telephone had been ringing off the hook, people
were saying some "haole" was looking for the Pililaau family. She said, "I felt good in my heart when I got the call you were coming. It was a good feeling to bring him back again. I felt what
we say in Hawaiian, 'makala', awake. I felt alive."
William Pililaau, Jr.,#1 son, now 70, sat beside me. William is a Mormon, as are most of the family. He quietly remembered, "Herbert was a
loner. He listened to classical music, didn't mingle. My other brothers and I were rowdy. Herbert was independent, he didn't get into trouble."
Sister #10, Mercy Pililaau Garcia, recounted a dream her
mother had just before Herbert was killed. "He came to her in a dream, saying that he would die. He came to her calmly. He was her favorite son." Mercy said all his teachers loved him, he was a
sweet boy. "He couldn't kill a fly, he was a soft kid."
When the family received news of the Congressional Medal of Honor, they actually could not believe it was the same boy they knew, it was so
unlike him. President Truman presented the posthumous award to Mr. and Mrs. Pililaau in Washington, D.C..
The citation reads:
"Herbert K. Pililaau, as a member of Company C, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. The
enemy sent wave after wave of fanatical troops against his platoon which held a key terrain feature on Heartbreak Ridge. Valiantly defending his position, his unit repulsed each attack until ammunition
became almost exhausted, and it was ordered to withdraw to a new position. Voluntarily remaining behind to cover the withdrawal, he fired his automatic weapon into the ranks of the assailants, threw all
his grenades, and with ammunition exhausted, closed with the foe in hand to hand combat, courageously fighting with his trench knife and bare fists until finally overcome and mortally wounded. When the
position was subsequently retaken, more than forty enemy dead were counted in the area which he so valiantly defended."
Agnes and Mercy took me to a park in Waianae named in honor of their brother. We walked across the street to the school-yard where Herbert once played. They talked of him as if he were walking there with
As I walked there on Oahu, I was thinking of that mountain in Korea where a gentle young man died covering his friends' withdrawal. I asked the sisters what the name Pililaau meant in Hawaiian. They
said it means "stick together.""
Pililaau 1951 - By U.S. Army and Pililaau family.
Color Photos By Hal Barker, Copyright 1989.