Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Remembering Stanley Akita, 100th Infantry Battalion

The first time I talked to Stan Akita, I was totally played by him.

Claire Mitani, the 442nd RCT Veterans Club Archivist, told me to call Stan and ask about the memoir he had written in the 1950s about his experiences as a POW in Germany during WWII. He told me that he only had a high school education and maybe it wasn't "good enough" for publication.

So I rush to tell him OF COURSE I would read the manuscript and OF COURSE I would see about publishing it as part of his story on the HI Nisei Story website. The manuscript, Stalag VIIA, was very well written with incredible details but I realized that I had read it somewhere before. It was already published in the book, Japanese Eyes, American Heart!!

Stanley was like that - very, very sharp and a rascal. There was always a twinkle in his eyes, especially when he was pulling one over you.

I began talking story with him and even joined his wine group at the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Clubhouse on Thursdays. The only rule was that wine had to be under $5 for the bottle.

At his house, Stan had the most amazing Grand Cru wines from France that we would drink and talk story. A lot of his stories centered around food and wine, a reflection of his love of both.

He talked about growing up in Honomu on the Big Island of Hawaii, catching frogs to eat or smoking out wasp larvae to fry with shoyu and sugar. On Saturdays, he would take a bucket to pick out maggots in the manure piles to take home to feed the chickens. Of course, we would discuss how a maggot fed chicken vs. the chickens we eat today differ in taste.

Stan talked about being a POW and having to eat sawdust bread. During the war, there was a shortage of flour, so the Germans used "tree flour" or sawdust in their bread. I searched the web for hours and managed to find the recipe for Stan. We wanted to try to re-create the recipe but were unable to figure out how to get pesticide-free and edible sawdust!

German Black Bread Recipe
[The following ingredients are from the Food Providing Ministry in Berlin, Germany. It was labeled “(Top Secret) Berlin 24.X1 1941.]

50% bruised rye grain
20% sliced sugar beets
20% tree flour (sawdust)
10% minced leaves and straw

The grain should be sufficiently rotten to provide gases to allow the bread to rise. The pieces of sugar beets provide sugar to supply the yeasty rye.

Mix together ingredients to create dough. Shape into loaves and bake. A loaf should weigh 3 to 4 pounds.

Stan developed an appreciation of French cuisine from his war years. We began a search to find all the restaurants serving escargot. My friend Lock and I would go over to their house and cook dishes like veal tongue and cheeks for Stan and Yuki.

Yuki Akita passed away on August 9, 2007.

Stan passed away on August 27th. To the end, he was talking about how good sweet and sour cabbage or rafute (shoyu pork) would taste. The last time I saw Stan, he held my hand and squeezed it as he whispered to me, "I love you."

Stan was a dear, dear friend. I miss his stories and I miss seeing the twinkle in his eyes.

Please read his story:

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