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Special Delivery Of a Letter

Nov. 05, 2007
Nov. 05, 2007

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Nov. 5, 2007

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Special Delivery Of a Letter

PEOPLE THINK that bottle-blond, Winchester-armed Colt Brennan, quarterback for undefeated Hawaii, is a cool story. After all, he starts chucking passes just after team breakfast and doesn't stop until bed check. He has tied or broken 22 NCAA passing records already.

This is an article from the Nov. 5, 2007 issue

But I know a much cooler Hawaii QB story.

It's about Mun Kin (M.K.) Wong, all 5' 8" and 145 pounds of him, the signal-caller on Hawaii's 1941 team.

"We were 8--1 on Dec. 6, 1941," remembers Wong, who was a sophomore at the Honolulu school that year. "I remember San Jose State was already on the island to play us the next Saturday. The next morning, a roommate woke me up and said the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. I figured it was a joke."

He ran to the top of Rocky Hill and saw how real it was. "We could see the [Japanese] planes flying in dropping silvery bombs. We could see smoke from the battleships. Fires had started all over the city. There were ambulances whistling by. They were already packing the dead out to burial grounds."

So that very day Wong traded one uniform for another, enlisting with the Hawaii Territorial Guard, the Islands' home defense outfit. Officers handed him a .30-caliber rifle and a six-bullet clip. "That first night was wild," remembers Wong, now 85. "The entire city was blacked out.... Cops would go around, and if they saw a light on in a house, they'd shoot it out. It's a wonder they didn't kill us all."

He slept that night on a gun-cleaning table at the Honolulu armory. When the following Saturday came, he completely forgot that there had been a football game scheduled. Then again, the school was closed, and even after it reopened in 1942, there would be no more football for the rest of the war.

Wong would end up spending five years in the Guard defending the Islands. Along the way he married his high school sweetheart, Florence Young, and when the war ended he went to work in his father's drapery business. Football returned in 1946, and Wong got Hawaii season tickets. But, secretly, one thing gnawed at him.

"I really wanted a varsity letter," he says. "Really, that's why I went out for football in the first place. I remember saying to myself, I don't care if I have to sit on the bench for four years; I'm going to get that letter."

But that 1941 team was largely forgotten. Nobody thought to celebrate one of Hawaii's greatest teams until one day this season—66 years later—when Hawaii coach June Jones heard about M.K. Wong, the sacrifice he had made and the letter he had never gotten. And that's when Jones had a wonderful idea.

Mind you, Jones has a few things on his plate, like coaching the 12th-ranked team in the country—the highest that the Rainbows have ever risen in the AP Poll. But Jones runs a manic run-and-shoot offense, which means he hates waiting, and maybe he figured Wong had waited long enough. Or maybe Jones just thinks every serviceman deserves to get at least one letter. So when he was organizing a charity banquet to "honor Hawaii's great quarterbacks," the unsuspecting Wong was among the 17 former Rainbows QBs who were invited.

When it was time to introduce Wong, the lights dimmed and a five-minute, black-and-white video came on showing Wong zipping around right end, the Hawaii team on board a ship to a game in the States (the Rainbows practiced on the deck) and, of course, the day of infamy. Wong began to tear up. "I was thinking of the guys I played with and the coaches. One of the coaches just died earlier this year," he says.

And then a choked-up Jones got up and said, "M.K., it gives me great pleasure to give you something that's been long overdue."

In front of a watery-eyed, whooping crowd, the last known living member of the 1941 Hawaii football team ambled up to finally get his letter.

Wong was too thunderstruck to speak that night. But now he's decided, "I'm glad I had to wait so long. If I'd gotten my letter way back then, it'd be lost by now. Do you know my kids and grandkids didn't even know I played football?"

Afterward, Colt Brennan himself came up and shook Wong's hand, awed. "The guy has lived an incredible life," Brennan says. "He made all of us think about where we live and what we stand for."

And maybe that was the plan from the beginning. "It's long forgotten what those men went through," Jones says.

And thanks to you, Coach, it's not anymore.

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After Dec. 7, 1941, nobody thought to celebrate one of Hawaii's greatest teams. Then, 66 years later, coach June Jones heard about M.K. Wong and the varsity award he never got.

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