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Hawaiians are laid back about North Korean threats

Published March 29, 2013 9:24 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

HONOLULU • When Japanese warplanes strafed the USS Honolulu in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Navy sailor Ray Emory fired back with a machine gun, so the World War II veteran knows all about being on the front line of America's defenses.

But North Korea's latest threats of a pre-emptive nuclear strike and rocket attacks on Hawaii do not faze him.

"They're not gonna do anything," Emory, 91, said at his Honolulu home. "They can't even control their missiles. North Korea doesn't bother me. It really doesn't," he added.

Emory's attitude seems to be the norm in the lush, tropical islands, where this week residents and tourists appeared to be pretty much ignoring Pyongyang's rhetoric.

If anybody was seriously preparing for the worst, Jared Aiwohi would know. He is the owner of a store called Uncle Jesse's Place in Wailuku, Maui that specializes in camouflage clothing, martial arts gear, hunting and bow supplies - the kind of gear favored by survivalists who fear a Doomsday scenario.

"The lifestyle here is laid back and people don't tend to be concerned about these things," Aiwohi said. "We always have the regulars prepping for things like this, but they haven't come in."

The U.S. military announced on March 15 it was bolstering missile defenses in response to the threats from North Korea, which has specifically mentioned Hawaii and the Pacific Island territory of Guam as potential targets.

"Yes, I'm concerned, but what can I do?" said Hawaiian homemaker Cheryl Yamamoto, 57. "Nothing."

Few believe North Korea will risk starting a full-out war - and Yamamoto said the ritual of going to work, getting dinner and taking care of her family weighed more on her mind than what the North Koreans might or might not do.

"I can't let them run my life," she said.

Joey Augustine and Doug Tojeiro, visiting from the continental United States, took time out from enjoying the local wild life (sea turtles) to discuss the threats as they walked up a rocky path from the beach. Both were skeptical.

"I think they're just trying to intimidate us, to see if they can get a rise out of us," Tojeiro said, as he wiped the salt water from his face. "We have the greatest military in the world to stay at peace."

On Guam, which lies about 2,500 miles closer to Pyongyang than Honolulu, the island's flow of tourists has been unaffected by rhetoric from North Korea, residents said.

While still on peoples' minds, concerns over the tension have receded somewhat as residents of the predominantly Catholic island have turned their attention to Easter celebrations.

Tammy Cruz, 38, a teacher from the village of Santa Rita, admitted she'd been a little worried: "Of course it's a scare to hear that our island is threatened." But she was focused on more immediate things: "Our tradition is to get together as a family and to come together to eat as well as have the kids play and to do an Easter egg hunt."

While U.S. Stealth bombers and a B-52 bomber flew practice runs over South Korea this week, Honolulu's Department of Emergency Management said it had not received any particular alert about potential threats.

"In the event of a rocket attack, then the national defense system would render it useless," said Mel Kaku, director of the Department of Emergency Management. "The best recommendation to our people would be to shelter in place until the threat was eliminated," he added.

In the event of any attack, Kaku's advice to residents is "stay away from windows, or open areas, stay indoors."

"Kind of like during a hurricane, the blast would be similar, with high winds and projectiles," he said.

The Pentagon has declined to define the range of North Korea's rockets, saying it is classified. But Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged on March 15 that one type of North Korean missile likely had the range to reach the United States.