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The Best Mistake: 66 Years Ago, Ken Stover Boarded the Wrong Ship and Found Aloha — Part 1

Dora and Kenneth Stover (Photo courtesy Sara Stover)

In this two-part series, we meed Ken and Dora Stover, who met and fell in love because Ken got on the wrong troop ship.

THE WRONG SHIP FOR KEN STOVER

A soldier in the U.S. Army, Ken Stover was 17 years old when he received orders to report to the Oakland, California Army Terminal. Common knowledge among the soldiers was that Oakland was where one went before being deployed to Eastern countries like Japan. While the island nation was about to become a much more significant part of his life, he didn’t know his destination.

He settled into his barracks — an enormous open room with several hundred beds — to await his fate. One morning, destiny sounded from the loudspeaker: “Everyone fall out onto the tarmac with your duffle bags.”

Stover joined the other soldiers in falling out and lining up in rows, aware that they would deploy before the sun set into the Pacific. He received instructions and heard names listed in alphabetical order.

Dora and Kenneth Stover (Photo courtesy Sara Stover)
Dora and Kenneth Stover (Photo courtesy Sara Stover)

Hundreds of young men responded, boarding bus after bus upon hearing their names announced. When one bus reached capacity, the soldiers moved on to the next vacant one.

“There were buses as far as you could see!” Ken recalls that day in 1956. “I was getting tired, standing out there on that hot tarmac, waiting for what seemed like hours.”

“By the time they got to the S’s, my attention span had faded,” he says. “Then the next thing I knew, they were in the T’s. I became concerned that I had missed my name!”

Stover decided to remedy the mistake with a foolish yet serendipitous move. He fell into line behind a bus, still far from complete. After boarding the bus, he rode with the other soldiers to the pier, where they then boarded a steam-powered ship, the USS Ainsworth. Thus began his two-week journey across the sea and into the unknown.

After the first week, a sergeant noted that Private Stover was never on duty. When questioned, Ken explained to the sergeant that his name was missing from the duty roster. Much discussion between the sergeant, the general and Ken ensued before discovering that Oakland had listed “Private Stover” as AWOL.

To send Stover back to fulfill his duties in Oakland was impossible: The ship was too far out to sea, Hawai’i-bound. Once the Ainsworth docked in Honolulu, Ken rode a bus to O’ahu’s Schofield Barracks, where assigned to tank battalion duties.

Within the year, it became clear to Stover that boarding that ship may have been the best mistake he ever made.

PATTERNS OUT OF PAPER

“I was born in 1940 on O’ahu, 16 years before Ken showed up on our island. And I was one year old when Pearl Harbor was bombed,” says Dora Stover of the Hawai’i she grew up in. “Being a Japanese-American born in Hawai’i during wartime was far from simple.”

Dora’s mother was educated at a sewing school on O’ahu, creating patterns out of newspaper for the clothes she sewed. Dora’s father had a gas station on Kalakawa Avenue. As a result of complications with an investment in Japan, he eventually lost the gas station.

Dora, her siblings and her parents
Dora, her siblings and her parents (Photo courtesy Sara Stover)

“A lot of people lost their business during the war,” says Dora of how hard those times were. When her father lost his business, all seven of his children got jobs, working to make ends meet.

To help her family, Dora found employment as a governess for a prominent family in the community while working at the Wheeler Army Airfield’s Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) club as a waitress and saving money to go to beautician school. The Hawai’i of World War II left her no choice but to manage to have less while developing a solid work ethic.

Being a Japanese-American born in Hawai’i during wartime was far from simple.

Dora’s passion for beauty and her ability to rise and meet demanding work with unwavering determination is instilled in her children and grandchildren. Today, Dora’s granddaughter, Michelle, runs a successful hair salon she founded in Pennsylvania. Her sons Steve and Kenny and granddaughter Nicholle are marathon runners.

With his grandfather’s name and his grandmother’s grit, Dora’s grandson Kenneth Patrick Stover is a trail and ultra-runner and often graces the cover of Hawai’i newspapers after winning races — papers that Dora’s mother would have used to create patterns for the clothes she sewed.

THE THIRD WHEEL

“When I first saw her, I was immediately drawn to her. I thought she was so beautiful,” says Ken Stover of the first time he laid eyes on Dora Ohta. There was, however, one minor problem. Dora was on a date with his friend, and Ken was the third wheel.

“My Army buddy asked me to go to the drive-in theater for a movie. When he showed up with this attractive young lady beside him in the car, I naturally assumed he had arranged a double date.” He hadn’t. Ken climbed into the back seat, confused yet intrigued by the Japanese American beauty in the front seat. The year was 1957.

Resigned to be the third wheel, Ken settled in for the double feature. A half-hour into the first film, Dora dangled her hand discreetly over the seat, confirming the mutual interest. Ken held her hand through the first feature and the second, and he continued to do so through the ensuing 64 years.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of Ken and Dora’s story!

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