Dan Aoki

Name Dan Aoki
Born January 31 1918
Died June 11 1986
Birth Location Kona, Hawai'i
Generational Identifier


World War II veteran, former president of the 442nd Veterans Club and key organizer in Hawai'i's Democratic Party. [1]

Background and World War II Experience

Daniel Toshimichi Aoki (1918–86) was born in Kealakekua on the island of Hawai'i and was the son of a Congregational preacher. When he was seven, his family relocated to Pu'unēnē, Maui, where he witnessed the poverty and hardship faced by plantation workers who struggled under the Republican control of the political and economic life of the Islands. Aoki graduated from Maui High School and attended the University of Hawai'i where his roommate was future congressman Sparky Matsunaga . He left the university before he graduated and joined future House Speaker Tadao Beppu in organizing a clerk's union at Castle & Cooke with the aid from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) before they were fired in 1941. Aoki encountered difficulties finding a job because of his Japanese ancestry but eventually found employment with the fire department after having to prove that he was not a dual citizen .

As a result of the discrimination he experienced, twenty-five-year-old Aoki volunteered for the army after World War II broke out despite being older than the typical eighteen or nineteen-year-old recruits. According to Aoki, "we fought better than many of the American Army because we had a two-fold purpose . . . We had to fight for our country like everyone else but we also had to prove that we were American soldiers." [2] Due to his experiences in combat, the first sergeant and Bronze Star awardee was dramatically transformed and would no longer accept the second-class status that Japanese Americans had endured in America.

The Political Mobilization of Nisei Veterans

Soon after his return to Hawai'i, Aoki and other veterans formed the 442nd Veterans Club and Aoki was elected president. At the club, Aoki renewed his acquaintance with Daniel Inouye , a second lieutenant with whom he had fought in Italy. In 1948, the club had raised a substantial fund for its headquarters and decided to hold a club birthday party to which Delegate Joseph Farrington was invited as a guest of honor. Inouye suggested that the club also invite Farrington's democratic opponent John Burns . Although he opposed politics in the veteran's club, Aoki agreed to this non-partisan gesture and was impressed when he met Burns. "He explained to us what politics was all about," recalled Aoki, "Burns had lived with the people of the Japanese community all his life—he knew how they thought and how they felt." The veterans also recognized the role Burns had played during the war as the liaison between the Honolulu Police Department and the FBI with his Police Contact Group . "We were revolutionary, belligerent, dissatisfied and ambitious," remembers Aoki, "I stuck with Mr. Burns because he was the man who was going to lead us to the things we wanted to do." [3] Under Burns and Aoki's guidance, the members of the 442nd Veterans Club actively began participating in the Democratic Party.

In 1949, Aoki campaigned for Akira Fukunaga in the race for Constitutional Convention delegate and in 1959, he supported Sakae Takahashi's bid for the Board of Supervisors. "It was hard work, seven days a week of work in our community trying to convince people," remembers Aoki. "The Republican Party was an entrenched party. We were coming in as a neophyte party, a party which had only existed in name. Now we had to come in and develop a party with people, with members. We had to go and get people signed up; we had to get people convinced; we had to get people believing," he said. [4] While past attempts had failed, Burns and members of the 442nd Veterans Club began to make progress as individuals who had attended mainland schools under the GI Bill began to return home and join the Democratic Party. In addition to supporting promising new candidates like Matsunaga and Inouye, the Democratic Party began running multiple candidates for all available positions in elections.

The Democratic Revolution of 1954 and Aoki's Role

In 1954, a Democratic majority was elected to the territorial legislature for the first time and although Burns would lose the race for congressional delegate to Elizabeth Farrington, Burns was elected in the subsequent 1956 election in a landslide victory over the incumbent. Aoki accompanied Burns to Washington D.C. as his administrative assistant where Aoki supported Burns's effort to grant Hawai'i statehood that was achieved in 1959. Three years later Burns was elected governor of Hawai'i and Aoki continued to work in the Burns administration and implemented the governor's directives. While his political opponents critiqued him for a "heavy-handed and arrogant style" his supporters admired his more straightforward approach, in particular Burns who told him when he began working for him, "Don't lie." However, four years after the election of Lt. Governor George Ariyoshi in 1974, Aoki left his government post. As Aoki noted, "we were kicked out in 1978. Maybe Mr. Ariyoshi wanted to be more independent . . . but I don't know what Mr. Ariyoshi's thinking because he never discussed these things with me." [5] Aoki retired from public life in 1978 but continued his political involvement. In 1986, Aoki was campaigning for the election of John Waihee as governor when he passed away in his sleep in his Palolo home at the age of 68. Aoki was survived by three sons, Paul, John, and Michael and a sister, Esther Lee.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Boylan, Dan. "The Old Guard Exits." Honolulu 14.2 (August 1979): 54, 158-164.

"Dan Aoki, Aide to Late Governor Burns, Pillar of Democratic Party, Dead at 68." Honolulu Star-Bulletin , 12 June 1986, A-2.

Kotani, Roland. "Dan Aoki: From the Shadow of John Burns." The Hawaii Herald , Dec. 4, 1981, pp. 7, 13 and Dec. 18, 1981, pp. 4, 10–11.

---. "Dan Aoki: 1918–1986." The Hawaii Herald , July 4, 1986, pp. 1, 13.


  1. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities .
  2. Roland Kotani, "Dan Aoki: From the Shadow of John Burns," Hawaii Herald , December 4, 1981, 7.
  3. Kotani, "Dan Aoki," 7.
  4. Kotani, "Dan Aoki," 7.
  5. Roland Kotani, "Dan Aoki: From the Shadow of John Burns," Hawaii Herald , December 18, 1981, 4.

Last updated June 10, 2015, 1:11 a.m..