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Rescuer and Man He Saved Finally Meet
By John Burnett For the Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Kazu Murakami,David Cook, Mrs Murakami and Director Donna Saiki

Yoshikazu Murakami points to David Cook as the two

finally realize that one another is there.

Kazu Murakami Rescue
For better or for worse, an intrepid mariner named Cook left his mark across the Pacific in the mid - to late - 18th century. Nearly two centuries later, another brave sailor with the same family name changed the possible course of history for at least a few lives in and around this vast expanse of ocean. This time, everyone involved would agree with Martha Stewart that "it's a good thing."
An event that took more than a year to plan, but nearly six decades to unfold, has reached a closure of sorts. Yoshikazu Murakami and David Cook finally met late Saturday afternoon at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo. Cook was a sailor aboard a Navy transport ship who helped to rescue a sick, weak and sunburned Murakami, who was adrift in a life raft about 100 yards offshore of Laupahoehoe the day after the devastating April 1, 1946, tsunami that killed 159 people.

Neither the rescuer nor the rescued ever were introduced formally. Murakami lost consciousness after grasping Cook, who passed his limp body up a cargo net into the hands, or more precisely, the hand, of a waiting shipmate, who helped Cook to hoist the unconscious 15 - year - old boy aboard LST - 731, a then - nameless tank and troop transport. The vessel, which nine years later was named the USS Douglas County, had been diverted by the Navy from its voyage home to San Francisco after World War II combat and post - imperial Japan occupation duty to look for possible survivors and floating bodies of victims.

In a ceremony that was videotaped by KGMB - TV News for edited broadcast on their 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts tonight, Murakami and Cook finally met face to face after 57 years. An amazing chain of incidents started in 1998 when Louis Beago of Houston, one of Cook's shipmates sending scratchy black - and - white photos he shot of the rescue to museum scientific advisory committee chairman Walter Dudley, a University of Hawaii at Hilo oceanographer and widely published tsunami expert, in August 1998. Those photos were filed but fortunately not forgotten. Kim Gennaula Interviewing Kazu Murakami

Museum director Donna Saiki remembered the photos when Murakami's son Glenn paid a visit with his wife, Teresa, to the tsunami museum during a trip from Los Angeles. They arrived just before closing time Oct. 13, 1999, and told Saiki of "Kazu" Murakami's rescue at sea. Saiki showed them the photos, but was not clear who was being rescued. Beago's notes indicated that it was a woman. As it turned out, a woman named Mrs. Akiona also had been rescued.

Cooks Call it miracle or cosmic coincidence, eight days later the Cooks got to the museum just before closing time. Closing time is important in both cases, because there are docents to conduct tours and Saiki usually only meets the museum guests when she unlocks and locks the building. When Cook said he had been on a ship that rescued a tsunami survivor, Saiki again retrieved the photos. When she pointed out that the photo caption said a woman was being rescued, Cook assured Saiki it was actually a boy. The boy, whose face was blurred in the photo, was Murakami.

One might expect tears of joy from such a poignant reunion. But what actually happened would cost $20 cover and a two - drink minimum at almost any comedy club.
A beautiful exhibit of Beago's photos and the story behind them were unveiled at the Saturday ceremony. The maile lei untying of the exhibition, however significant, pales in comparison with the reunion, which was kept secret from the principals through a little conspiracy involving the museum, Kathryn Cook, Murakami's daughter Yvonne Hasegawa and KGMB - TV anchor/reporter Kim Gennaula.
Cook and Murakami were sitting in the front row, still unaware of each other while Dudley read from a prepared statement before lights and cameras. Dudley introduced Murakami. He didn't have to introduce Cook. As it turns out, he's a man who needs no introduction.

Handshake
Photo by William Ing for the Hawai'i Tribune Herald

"They told me you weren't going to be here!" Cook interjected. Then with perfect comedic timing he intoned, "You almost wasn't!" He and Murakami both rose to their feet and hugged heartily.
Cook's pronouncement elicited laughter from those in attendance.

Anybody who expected a teary - eyed reunion should have been forewarned when Cook was shepherded into the proceeding and seated next to Saiki, a former public school teacher and administrator who retired as principal of Hilo High School in the mid - 1990s.
"She used to be a schoolteacher," quipped Cook, who quit high school to join the Navy in 1943 at age 17 and went on to a Navy career. "I'm allergic." A couple of years ago, Cook and other living World War II veterans were awarded their high school diplomas as a token of gratitude for their service.
When Cook, whose wife, Kathryn, and daughter, April Gaul, agree might just be Ellwood City, Pa.'s funniest citizen paused to catch a breath, Murakami told him, "I owe you one."
"Just think of it," Cook replied, just warming up. "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have a wife; you wouldn't have a daughter."
"All your misery you owe to me."
Murakami, proving himself a capable straight man, looked over to Kathryn Cook and deadpanned, "Is that your daughter?"
Cook's wife turned to Lily Murakami and gushed, "I love your husband."
There were maile leis for both Martin and Lewis - oops, Murakami and Cook. The leis were bestowed with the obligatory kiss. Museum curator Jill Sommer, about to become an unwitting femme fatal in this vaudeville review, did the honors.
"Whoa! I may be old, but I'm not dead," the 77 - year - old Cook said about his moment with the statuesque Sommer. "You can be my new daughter, now."
An obviously pregnant Gennaula proved herself to be a better - than - fair emcee, as well, zinging the top banana.
"Not the way you were hugging her!"

Gennaula says she and weathercaster hubby Guy Hagi are expecting a daughter in December. It will be their second child. Their son, Luke Ichiro, is a year old. Gennaula's condition seemed in keeping with the family theme of the day. Those present but not previously mentioned include Murakami's brother Tadao and sister - in - law Vivian, his sister Hisako, his niece Sharon and sons Darren and Daniel. He has another daughter, Coleen. Kim Gennaula speaking to the Cooks

Turning serious, Murakami said that his rescue and his family are both gifts from God.
"When I was young, I thought, 'One of these days when I get married, I'm going to have four children. Two boys and two girls.' It happened that way. God is with me."
The retired gardener and landscaper who lives in Los Angeles also has six grandchildren and one great - grandchild. But if not for either a stroke of luck or divine intervention, it might never have happened.
"The first pass they went by, the boat missed me," Murakami said. "Then I looked again. It came around a second time and they saved me. Cook said it was the last trip they could make because they were too close to shore. I passed out after I grabbed hold of him. Because I had to use all my strength to be saved."
"That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I knew, I was in a bunk bed."

Kazu Murakami and David Cook That bunk bed was in a military hospital in Hilo, where the warship dropped Murakami off. His mother and sister passed him while looking for him while he was sleeping in the hospital, because he was so sunburned they did not recognize him. After he was discharged the following day, Murakami took a bus and hitchhiked home to Honohina where he found his family planning his funeral.

That funeral could have been a real possibility, Cook said, even after the vessel spotted Murakami.
"It was nasty," he recalled. "He was real close to a sea wall that you can't see in these photos. We figured it we didn't get him, we'd be picking up his body."
Cook, who was just shy of 20 when the rescue occurred, recalled that Murakami was heavy, just dead weight.
"You passed out," he said to Murakami. "Why'd you do that?"
Cook cleared up one mystery and created another at the ceremony. It was previously believed that he was the sinewy sailor gripping Murakami's hand and dragging him up the cargo net they used as a rope ladder over the ship's side.

"That's not me," Cook said, adding he doesn't remember the identity of the sailor gripping in the photo. He had an even more dangerous job, one unseen by the camera. "I was underneath pushing (Murakami) up. I had him on my shoulders."

Beago, the photographer who chronicled the events leading up to the reunion, is in ill health and was unable to make it to Hawaii for either the made - for - TV reunion comedy bash or the museum's Sunday night Laupahoehoe Rescue Reunion Dinner. But if he had not sent the museum the photos five years ago this month,then Murakami, whose visions about a future family proved to be on the mark, might not have fulfilled another of his predictions.


"I told myself I can't die before I meet this man."
Kazu Murakami and David Cook


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Last Revised July 2010