Age 97, of Honolulu, Hawaii, passed away on September 17, 2011, in Honolulu. Born December 17, 1913 in Hilo, he was one of those quiet, determined men who helped change the course of history. A modest and pious individual, he would have smiled in embarrassment to hear that said about him. But like many men and women of his generation he was as much a hero as any Medal of Honor winner.
The son of Loo Akau and Awana Ching, his father owned Loo’s New Market, a quality grocery business known as the chief purveyor of caviar and other delicacies on the Big Island. After graduation from Hilo High School in 1932, Ernest went on to earn a BA in chemistry at the University of Hawaii, Manoa in 1936. His high marks qualified him for graduate school but he returned to Hilo where he managed his father’s business and helped provide for his other siblings. All seven children of the Loo family of Hilo went to college and would go on to become professionals, doctors, teachers and government managers.
In his late twenties, while still managing his father’s store, Ernest’s response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor was to volunteer for the US Army. As an enlisted man in the 25th Infantry (“Tropic Lightning”) PVT Loo, along with many other men from Hawaii, was shipped to the Solomon Islands where in December, 1942 he fought alongside the US Marines against the tenacious Japanese 35th Infantry at Guadalcanal in what was one of the early and decisive battles of WWII in the Pacific. As Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, the commander of the Japanese brigade later said, “Guadalcanal is no longer merely a name of an island in Japanese military history. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese army.” Loo was honorably discharged from the Army and National Guard in 1953 and had achieved the rank of Captain, Infantry.
At the end of the war, Ernest returned home to his wife Eleanor and children and took up work as an accountant for the Hilo fire station. He also worked for the Hilo Board of Health before moving to Honolulu for a job as a Hawaii State human resources manager in the Department of Personnel, signing pay checks monthly for hundreds of employees. He continued until his retirement in 1975 at a ceremony attended by then Governor George Ariyoshi. He seldom mentioned his soldiering, and only spoke about the war when he was asked a direct question. He was a peaceable soul, with an orderly mind and a quiet heart. He was a non-drinker, non-smoker, non-gambler, but a great lover of food, of family dinners and holiday meals. His greatest joy was his role as the patriarch of an extended family, and he was at his most content sitting at a large round table in a Chinese restaurant on a holiday, and happiest when, as sometimes happened, every member of the family was present. Generosity was another of his traits, at the end of the meal presenting out lee see, red envelopes, of money to his grandchildren.
Ernest loved to travel, making several voyages to China as a young man in the south of Guangdong province to visit relatives in his ancestral village in Xiangshan county, later named Zhongshan county after Sun Yat-sen, who was born there (and who also studied in Hawaii). He and Eleanor were avid ballroom dancers since the 1960?s and were regulars at the Ala Wai Club House up until about 2003. In retirement Ernest remained active in clubs, in particular the Ket On Society (of which he was elected president) and studying Mandarin, which he and Eleanor enjoyed together. He continued to travel with his wife throughout the Mainland and delighted in cruises to Alaska and Canada, loved Europe and revisiting a modernized China, taking some of his children with him. He loved watching football, and when Hawaii won, capped with a Mainland victory by the Forty-Niners, his weekend was complete.
He was the husband every woman would wish for, the father every family flourishes under – even-tempered, dependable, generous, punctual, modest, law-abiding, hard-working, fair, and because he was widely-traveled and a witness to the horrors of war, he was wise in his advice, though he never imposed himself. He was watchful, but he was prudent, and though he might not comment on a transgression he did not miss anything.
He is survived by wife, Eleanor W. Loo; daughters, Wilma Loo and Sheila Donnelly Theroux; son, Ernest J.T. Loo; grandchildren, Christopher Loo, Elizabeth Loo, Meredith Loo; Brendan Donnelly; Great grandchildren, Darius Donnelly; Rain Ensign, In-laws, Victoria Wang, Paul Theroux, Amelia Ensign, Ruri Loo.
Services will be held at Arcadia on September 28 at 11:00 a.m. Inurnment at Punchbowl September 29.