During my last week in Oahu, Hawaii, Matt and I ventured out to the Fort Derussy Army Museum. We didn’t realize that it was open for free to the public during Memorial Day weekend, so it was a real treat especially since I had denied Matt the privilege of visiting any war based museums on our trip to Waikiki. We had seem glimpses of veteran floral decorations hung proudly at memorials throughout the islands and the letters “442” kept showing up in different places.
When we finally arrived at Fort Derussy, Matt gave me a brief lecture about the 100th Battilion, 442nd Infantry which is the only remaining Infantry unit in the Army Reserve force structure. The story goes that in 1943, the US Army asked for volunteers to form a new Japanese American combat unit due to lack of man power.
Thousands of young Japanese men milled anxiously about, waiting for their names to be called. On February 1st President Roosevelt put out “A call for enlistees followed in hopes of meeting the quota of 3,000 Japanese-American volunteers from the mainland, and 1,500 from Hawaii. In Hawaii, more than a thousand volunteered the first day of the announcement and now as they gathered for the roll call of those accepted for duty, there were nearly 10,000 volunteers.” You can read more about the 442nd here, but story goes that
The 442nd famously rescued the “Lost Battalion” at Biffontaine. Pursuant to army tradition of never leaving soldiers behind, over a five-day period, from October 26 to October 30, 1944, the 442nd suffered the loss of nearly half of its roster—over 800 casualties, including 121 dead—while rescuing 211 members of the 36th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, which had been surrounded by German forces in the Vosges mountains since October 24. *
To put it straight in layman’s terms, over 800 Japanese American lives were lost to save 211 American lives. Normally I’m not much of a history buff, but this struck a cord with me. I am an Asian woman dating an American man, which brings out the significance of how much time has passed since Japanese Internment Camps.
The point of my historical reference goes like this. A week after my education of the 44nd “Go for Broke” Infantry, I was dragging my feet trying to settle back into the motion of my 9-6pm work schedule at home. What usually makes this easier is a visit to Peets or Starbucks in the morning to make time go by a little bit quicker. As I was patiently waiting for my drink, I glanced over to an old man who sat at a table by himself scouring the room for a friend. More so, I noticed the blue cap full of flags and pins, as well as the words ‘World War II’. “Excuse me, are you a veteran of WWII?”, I asked. Before he even opened his mouth, my mouth dropped to the group as I read ‘World War II Veteran. 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry’. Holy freaking guacamole!
I proceeded to tell him that I was very grateful for his service to the country and thanked him for being a part of history. My simple giving of thanks turned into a 1 hour conversation that felt more like Grandpa telling me stories of his past experiences. I sat there glued to the table, absorbing every single piece of information he shared with me, praying for dear life that I would remember everything to tell Matt about his honorable meeting.
Before I left, I exchanged information with him before taking off, telling him that I would love to meet with him again and possible introduce him to Matt, who had recently served in Iraq. He, Jimmy Makino, smiled and agreed. I felt like I had struck gold. Big gold, bigger than the nugget my great grandfather found in the gold rush in San Francisco!
Fast forward to a few months later, I finally got my act together to meet with Jimmy again. Being 80+ years old, I know his time is limited and I yearned to capture his stories on tape to share with future generations to come. I give you a video clip of Jimmy speaking. I believe that every person we come into contact shares a grain of truth, knowledge and history that reminds us that we are human beings living on the same planet. Jimmy lived in an era where he set off to liberate the many Jewish lives at Dachau, only to think back to his family who were imprisoned at Internment Camps throughout California. If I recall correctly, Jimmy’s family lived in 4-5 different camps.
I hope that this story will open your eyes to respect the elders (grumpy or not) among you, to thank them for their time and contribution to today’s advances. Without them, we surely would not be here.
Today, we cherish our lives and take for granted the simplicities of being able to purchase a new outfit, a cup of coffee, a bowl of rice, but seldom do we recognize how far we’ve come in terms of history to bring us here today. I hope that this story will open your eyes to respect the elders (grumpy or not) among you, to thank them for their time and contribution to today’s advances. Without them, we surely would not be here.