Howard Fields -- "Tommy's Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back"

Personal stories unfold slowly in these Hawaiian Islands. To be privy to them often takes years of visiting or living amongst locals. Such was the case for Howard Fields in getting to know Tommy Tang, a favorite golf course marshal so nicknamed for the cups of orange Tang he offered thirsty players.

“I’d come with a couple of brothers on golf vacations in January or February for years,” Howard recalls. “I’d just hear things, talk to him and word about him being a POW got around. I struck up a conversation and used to tease him about the top of his cart where it says ‘Player’s Assistant’. I kept pumping him for details because I wanted to know his story.”

Good thing because Tommy, whose real name is Takuji Sarashina, had a little-known but significant story to tell. And Howard, equipped with the inquisitive nose of a working newspaper reporter once with United Press International, was just the man to put it in print.

In his recently released “Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back,” Howard begins at the end of World War II with Hawaiian-born Tommy marching as a Japanese soldier away from Nanking, China. He then looks back to when Tommy’s family lived in warm, sunny Maui before pitching forward again into the war. From there he delves into how Tommy, his father, and younger brother fell into separate military hellholes created by the then existing global powers.

Howard details how Tommy’s father, a Buddhist minister and loyal Japanese citizen, became a shuffled-about internee on mainland American soil. While, Junji, his younger and also Hawaiian-born brother, witnessed the carnage of America’s atomic bomb on Hiroshima that Howard notes, “merely ended the war two or three months earlier than it would have otherwise…”

And Tommy? Well Tommy plummeted deepest and without ever firing the rifle assigned him. His only thoughts were of returning to Japan and eventually Maui. But instead, he would be captured by Russian soldiers and left starved, lice-ridden, and frigid as a prisoner of war in a remote Siberian work camp for the next two years. From that time on, Tommy would be left asking, “How did things go so wrong?”

According to Howard, his own fascination took hold while trying to understand how three males from one family ended up in major wrong places at the same time. As a result and in order to uncover those truths, he painstakingly pieced together “Tommy’s Wars” by doggedly researching military and international records. He also relied on Tommy to translate difficult Japanese transcripts and to collect sensitive personal information that would, in the end, help document their incredible saga.

He admits that he was originally only going to write a newspaper article, but after hearing the full, ill-fated account of the Sarashina family’s war experience, knew he had to write a book. Howard’s initial 2015 e-book release of “Tommy’s Wars” was timed to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II.

To purchase “Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back,” go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble at Check also with your local bookstore by asking for it to be ordered if it’s not carried.

Howard Fields can be reached through his website at

Members of the West Maui Book Club look forward to its success, because while history expounds on the many atrocities of WWII, it barely mentions what happened to the unfortunate men like Tommy. His and his family’s story would be lost if it wasn’t for Howard writing about it. So we’re thrilled it’s finally in print, particularly for Tommy, a man long considered one of Maui’s favorite sons.

Written by: Elaine Gallant, Oct. 2015
West Maui Book Club