War hero, centenarian, Baylor Law grad honored in native Hawaii
Takashi Kitaoka, LLB ’40, is well-known in his home state of Hawaii as a war hero, judge and trailblazer. At 102 years old, Kitaoka has enjoyed a rich array of experiences in his life that have taken him from Hawaii to Baylor and back.
Last month, Kitaoka was honored with the “Heart of a Hero” award by students at the Navy Hale Keiki School, a school composed overwhelmingly of military families, in Honolulu. The descriptive title of the award foreshadows the uniqueness of Kitaoka’s story.
The son of Japanese immigrants, Kitaoka was born in Maui in 1912 and came to Baylor at the age of 25 to study law. After graduating in 1940, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the Hawaii National Guard, where he served for a year before being discharged and then called back after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, however, all soldiers with Japanese backgrounds were assigned to an “orphan battalion” (so called because it was not assigned to any larger Army unit), the 100th Infantry Battalion. He proved his loyalty and bravery, receiving the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Congressional Gold Medal after being injured in battle.
Kitaoka distinguished himself in the army, but it was his time at Baylor that led to his trailblazing career as a judge. In an oral history interview with the University of Hawaii, he spoke at length of his time at Baylor, which prepared him to become Maui circuit judge in 1962 – the first Maui native to fill the post. Years later, Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye proclaimed Kitaoka had “witnessed and participated in the most important events in Hawaii and the world” while honoring him for his service.
Kitaoka’s son, Lloyd, told Baylor Law School on his father’s 100th birthday that his father remained close to Baylor despite the distance, and that he was thrilled when Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy.
Last year, Kitaoka lost his wife of 72 years (!!), Yuki, at the age of 99. Kitaoka still gets out and about — he received his “Heart of a Hero” award in-person from the group of children more than 90 years his junior.
Sic ’em, Takashi Kitaoka!
[Pictured above, left to right: Kitaoka in front of Brooks Hall; being sworn in as State Labor Department Head; with his wife in 2012; receiving the "Heart of a Hero" award in 2014]