The irresistible islands of Hawaii are more than just picturesque vacations destinations, they have also been home to many honorable, courageous and talented men and women. Learn about a few of the people who have stood out in history as individuals modeling the “Aloha Spirit” and get to know some of the great heroes of Hawaii:
King Kamehameha I: This great Hawaiian king was noted for his strength, determination and success as a monarch. Kamehameha was a seasoned warrior, reputedly able to overturn stones weighing thousands of pounds, and was adept in the skill of lua, the Hawaiian martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. After rising victorious from several bloody battles, such as Nu’uanu Pali on Oahu and Iao Valley in Maui, Kamehameha used western war strategies and weapons to unite the Hawaiian Islands under his rule in 1810. This was a particularly impressive feat as the islands had been divided for centuries. Kamehameha was a diplomatic leader, who heroically secured the Hawaiian Islands by uniting them together in a time of cultural upheaval and change in the 19th century. Kamehameha has statues commemorating his influential rule over Hawaii, in four different places including Hilo and North Kohala on the Big Island, Honolulu on Oahu and at the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Hawaiians also celebrate the life of their beloved king by decorating his statue with leis on Kamehameha Day on June 11 of each year.
Duke Kahanamoku: A perfect example of the strength and agility of the Hawaiian people, Duke Kahanamoku was renowned for the swimming ability that awarded him numerous distinctions and medals in his lifetime. Duke was a record-breaking swimmer and winner of multiple gold medals in the Olympic Games. Compelled by his love of the water, Duke passed on his passion by teaching people to surf, canoe and swim, becoming the most famous beach boys on Waikiki Beach.. He was later elected sheriff in Honolulu and has been honored in both the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Surfing Hall of Fame. On Kuhio Beach in Waikiki, a statue of the “Father of Surfing” honors Duke Kahanamoku’s life.
Saint Damien: Originally known as Father Damien, this catholic priest traveled from Belgium to Hawaii to serve the ailing and ostracized leper colony on the island of Molokai in 1873. He brought order and structure to the lives of those struggling with what is now known as Hansen’s disease, helping to comfort them in their pain and teaching them about hope and faith in the midst of suffering. Well-loved by all in the segregated community, Damien served selflessly for 16 years before he lost his life to the disease. Father Damien became Hawaii’s first person to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2009. His heroism and service is appreciated by all people in Hawaii, dedicating two statues to his memory, one in St. Joseph’s Church on Molokai and another at the State Capitol building in Honolulu.
Mother Marianne Cope: Catholic nun Marianne Cope arrived in Hawaii at the request of King Kalakaua to oversee the Branch hospital on Oahu. She successfully established the Oahu Hospital, the Malulani Hospital in Maui and also managed to open a girl’s home in 1885 for children who were “orphaned” when their parents contracted Hansen’s disease and were taken to live on Kalaupapa. Mother Marianne Cope then moved to Molokai herself with a few courageous sisters in 1888 to carry on the work and service of Father Damien and care for him just months before his own passing. Cope brought joy to the residents of Kalaupapa, and was would sing and play the piano, garden with the residents, and teach the children. For her selfless work and devotion to many in Hawaii, including those afflicted with Hansen’s disease, she was declared a saint in 2012.
Queen Lili’uokalani: She was first known as Lydia Kamakaeha before she became Hawaii’s first reigning queen. Many Hawaiians sadly remember her as the last Hawaiian sovereign to govern the islands before they were annexed by the United States in 1898. Lili’uokalani regretted the loss of power the monarchy had suffered under her predecessor, King Kalakaua, and tried to restore the authority of the Hawaiian monarchy. This made her the target of powerful foreigners who wanted to expand their business interests in Hawaii. To avoid bloodshed by her people, Lili’uokalani surrendered her throne in 1895 to insurrectionists lead by American Sanford B. Dole. After she was exiled, she continually sought the aid of the US government to restore the Hawaiian monarchy, while at the same time, bitterly, but unsuccessfully, fought against the annexation of the islands by the United States. In addition to her courage and legacy, Queen Lili’uokalani is fondly known by all the people who live in Hawaii as the composer of the beloved and iconic Hawaiian song “Aloha Oe.”100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team: The 100th Battalion was a US Army battalion formed in Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941. The 100th Battalion was mostly comprised of young American men of Japanese ancestry from Hawaii eager to prove their loyalty to their country at a time when it was in question and ironically when their fellow Americans of Japanese ancestry were being interned in concentration camps throughout the western US mainland. The 100th Battalion later merged with the newly formed 442nd regiment which was also mostly comprised of Americans of Japanese ancestry. The 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team fought throughout Europe and was quietly famous for its fierceness and bravery, suffering the highest casualty rate of any US Army unit of its size well as being the most decorated in the entire history of American warfare. Twenty-one members of the 100th Battalion, including the late US Senator Daniel K. Inouye, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. The heroic contributions of the 100th Battalion to America’s war efforts during World War II were one of the factors that paved the way for Hawaii to become the 50th State in the nation in 1959.
Ellison Onizuka: He was born in the small and remote town of Kealakekua on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1946 and later became a flight engineer and test pilot for the United States Air Force. Onizuka was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1978 and became Hawaii’s first astronaut as well as the first Asian American and first person of Japanese ancestry to enter space. He served as a Mission Specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery as well as on the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger which tragically exploded after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, with all hands lost, in 1986. Ellison Onizuka has been the recipient of numerous posthumous awards such as the the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and other honors including numerous streets and buildings being named after him in Hawaii and across the nation. Ellison Onizuka continues to be an inspiration to all people from Hawaii, especially those raised from humble beginnings and who aspire to literally shoot for the stars.