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New book details family’s experiences amid WWII atrocities

By Staff | Jul 23, 2015

“Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back” details the World War II experiences of Tommy Sarashina (pictured) and his brother and father.

LAHAINA – Tommy Sarashina, a golf course marshal known to West Side golfers as “Tommy Tang,” is the subject of a book just launched on Amazon.com called “Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back.”

The book details Sarashina’s time as a prisoner of war in Siberia, and that his father and a brother who attended Lahainaluna High School experienced three other atrocities of the Pacific theater of World War II: Pearl Harbor, internment and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Tommy is the son of Shinri Sarashina, a Buddhist minister who presided over the construction of Lahaina Hongwanji Mission on Wainee Street in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

His children included Hawaii-born Tommy and Junji, who attended King Kamehameha III Elementary School.

Shinri was transferred to Honolulu just a few years before Pearl Harbor. An Issei (first generation to the U.S.), he was among the first taken and last released from barbed-wired internment camps on the Mainland.

Since he expected to return to Japan soon, Shinri sent his wife and children there to be educated and learn the language and culture.

Junji, who later attended Lahainaluna before getting a job on Oahu as a radio announcer on a Japanese radio station, was a 16-year-old at forced work in a Hiroshima factory when the atomic bomb was dropped. He managed to survive and lived through the tragedy of that day and the next.

Tommy, meanwhile, was a newly inducted recruit in the Japanese Imperial Army. Before he ever saw a combat soldier, much less fire his rifle, he was captured by the Soviet army while in the Japan-occupied Manchuria section of China when Japan surrendered, abandoning its soldiers.

He was shipped to Siberia, where he performed slave labor while being kept on the edge of starvation for two years.

The heavily researched book follows him from his birth in the Pioneer Mill Hospital through the war, recovery from starvation and his eventual return to Maui. Tommy worked as a golf course marshal in Kaanapali for 25 years and retired two years ago.

According to author Howard Fields, the book weaves through Tommy’s experiences and those of his brother and father in the context of the time, peppered with newly declassified and released material about the major events of the war and transcripts of high-level Japan leadership discussions of the time.

He said that there are many surprises in the book, some dispelling several of the myths of that war that will be repeated this year during the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

Fields, a 13-year Lahaina resident, is now a professional editor and writer after a career as a newsman, most of it in Washington, D.C.

A print edition is scheduled for release near the end of this year.