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Newsletter article; Who is that Boy in the Picture?
Who's the Boy in the Picture?
by Donna Saiki
Known as our "Signature Picture", this photograph taken by a barber named Cecilio Licos on April 1, 1946 is perhaps the most famous tsunami photo in our collection. Everyone writing a book or doing a documentary on tsunamis uses this photo.

A question often asked is if we know the names of those who are running from the wave. A year ago, after seeing this picture in a TV tsunami documentary, George Wong of Virginia called the museum and identified himself as the young man who is in the foreground of the picture.

In July of 2002, he and his family came to visit the museum and he recounted his recollections of that fateful day of April 1, 1946. He said he was just a few months shy of his fifteenth birthday and had come down from Honolulu to live for a month with his uncle who owned the Kwon See Wo Store on Kamehameha Avenue, midway between Mamo and Ponahawai Streets. Every morning he would come to help his uncle open up the store before going on to St.Mary's School. On the morning of April 1, 1946, when he and uncle got to the store they found that it had been flooded.

They didn't even realize that a tsunami was in progress and that the flooding had occurred because of the first tsunami wave that morning. Because of the mess in the store, his uncle told him that he would not open up until he had it cleaned up and for George to go on to school. George left the store by the back door and proceeded down the alley and across Ponahawai Street when someone shouted "Wave". A quick look back confirmed a large wave coming over Hilo Bay. George turned and ran nearly knocking over the photographer as he yelled at him to get out of the way.

Several days after the wave, the picture started making the news and was published in the newspapers. Even though his aunties teased him about making the news, George never kept a copy of the picture or newspaper clipping. With the end of school in June, George returned to Honolulu to his family. After high school graduation and a stint in the service, he moved to Chicago where he met his wife, a girl from Kona. He would tell his wife about the picture in which he is running from a tsunami wave, and she would just laugh as if he was telling her a big story. Then one evening in 2001, as they were watching television, a announcement for a tsunami documentary came on. She joked that maybe they would see the "famous" picture of George running from the wave and to her surprise that is exactly what they found! This prompted George to call the museum and answer the fifty-five year old question,

"Who is the boy in the picture?"

On July 31, 2002, George, his wife, his son and daughter with their spouses and children came into the Pacific Tsunami Museum. It was his first trip back to Hilo since leaving in June of 1946. He got to relive his experience and his grandchildren were in awe that Grandpa's picture was on so many book covers, picture post cards, posters and in the movies.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum collects tsunami stories, and George Wong's story is really one of a kind. We're so happy that he shared his unique story with us.

Donna Saiki is a retired Hilo High School principal and Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award recipient. She is currently the Executive Director of the Pacific Tsunami Museum and continues her teaching vocation by giving presentations to groups of all ages visiting the museum.

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Last Revised November 2007