to Those Who Follow,
Reading the Sunday paper today, I
realized that Sunday was Veteran's Day. I missed it. I
thought of Dad. Dad would be 80 this year, grizzled perhaps but never
It's never too late to remember:
I was raised by a
WW II veteran who fought in the bloodiest battles of Europe as a
front-line soldier. He was my father.
In 1943, the U.S. War Department in need of manpower,
sent out recruiters asking for volunteers to form a new combat team
made up of Americans of Japanese ancestry, the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
12,500 men from the then Territory of Hawai'i volunteered.
At a time
when the civil liberties and rights of Americans of Japanese
ancestry were being stripped away and "their families imprisoned in internment camps
(on the mainland US) and prejudices existed at the upper ranks of the military, in the trenches of
Europe and in the Pacific Theatre", my father, 21 years old,
volunteered to fight for America and its freedom.
After encountering racial prejudice
while being combat trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, he was shipped half a world away,
as a PFC
(private first class), to fight a
war in Italy, France,
His combat team became the most decorated unit for its size and
length of service in American military history:
"The 442nd/100th sustained 9,486 wounded and over 600 killed suffered, the highest casualty rate of any American unit
during the war."
"(They) were awarded 18,143
decorations, including 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished
Service Medal, 560 Silver Stars (28 with Oak-leaf clusters), 22 Legions of
Merit, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 12 Croix de Guerre and 9,486 Purple
Grandmother Satsuma told me the
happiest day in her life was the day Dad came home alive as a
recovering corporal, injured but very much alive. With a patriotic, victory
parade, the entire village honored him
as a war hero.
The news that his combat
team had saved the Texas
"Lost Battalion" preceded his return, and his home village
-- and the world -- had learned about the unprecedented heroism
of these island boys, turned heroic combat soldiers. To save
211 trapped Texans, my father's combat team fought the bloodiest
battle of the war, suffering 2,000 casualties, including 140 killed.
[As Fate would have it,
years later, one
of my clients is one of these 211 Texans.]
An inquisitive little girl, I was
poking around and found a shoebox of medals and war memorabilia
which was shoved into the farthest corner under a bed in Mom's sewing
room in the basement. From time to time, I'd crawl under the
bed and pull it out, just to admire and finger the medals, tarnished by the tropical Hawaiian
air. I wondered what happened in "The War."
What were Dad's deeds of valor?
He never spoke of
them. There was an unsaid rule in our house: "The War" was a forbidden
topic. His war experiences were so horrific and heart-wrenching,
that not until his last years was he able to speak of them, when
time's balm had finally tempered the pain.
Early on, I was
clued in to the pain. One Sunday afternoon, when I was about ten,
Dad was napping. As a mother is filled with love looking at her
sleeping baby, I was filled with an overwhelmingly love for my
father as he peacefully slept. Gently, I planted a kiss on his
In a split second, I was violently
knocked off my feet to the floor. Profoundly startled, he was on his
feet in a combat stance, roaring. Shocked, I looked up at him with eyes wide
open. I'll never forget the ferocity -- the fire -- that was in
Just as quickly, a glazed
look came over them as he transitioned back into wakefulness.
When he realized what happened, fear replaced the ferocity. He scooped me
his arms, asking me if I was alright.
Speechless, I nodded my
head. Holding me tightly to his chest, he rocked me back and
forth, sobbing as he apologized over and over again, "I'm sorry, so sorry, I thought I was
still in the war, so sorry..."
Dad's streaming tears scared me
being knocked down. I burst into tears, and our tears mingled as we
rocked in unison, holding each other. Between sobs, I promised him that I would never kiss him while he
was asleep, never ever again.
My father lived with his unspoken
horrors for most of his life. Whenever life was stressful, he was
visited by recurrent dreams. His subconscious mind flash-backed to
the front-line trenches to relive the horrors of war. Once
again, he watched his buddies die or dying around him. Once
more, he was being bombarded by the heavy artillery. Once
again, he was put in the situation of "Kill, or be
Bolting upright in bed,
his quivering face would horribly contort in blind terror, and his
blood-curdling screams pierced the dead of night. Dad's night
terrors haunted all of us.
The next morning, he
remembered nothing. These days,
he would be identified as a sufferer of the invisible injuries of
war called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
is a natural emotional reaction to a
deeply shocking and disturbing experience.
It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
The symptoms are surprisingly common and
include sleep problems, nightmares and waking early, impaired memory, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance (feels like but is not
paranoia), jumpiness and exaggerated startle response, fragility and hypersensitivity, irritability, violent outbursts, joint and muscle pains,
panic attacks, fatigue, low self-esteem, exaggerated feelings of guilt, feelings of nervousness and
Among combat veterans, over
50% are estimated to have suffered from post-traumatic
stress disorder. For the most part, the World War II vets suffered
in stoic silence.
To his last, Dad was proud to be an
American. He taught me respect, honor, and discipline, as well as to revere the flag
as a symbol of freedom and to love my country and its
By his living
example, he showed me how to make the American Dream come
true: He lived and breathed his combat team's motto,
"Go For Broke!" Its meaning is
"risk everything, give everything you
have--all or nothing."
had done in the war's killing fields, he went for broke in the
papaya farm fields of Hawai`i. With clearly defined, focused
goals that he was committed to achieve, he became a pioneer and
founder of a farming industry with an international reach.
taught me to never forget those who have come and gone before us. Every
Memorial Day, he remembered his fallen comrades. We'd drive
20 miles out to the veteran's cemetery, and he'd gather us around
their graves as he solemnly placed bouquets of flowers that he would put together
himself alongside the markers..
He ignored the
observance of Veteran's Day, turning down invitations to participate in Veteran's Day
ceremonies and march alongside grizzled old veterans of the first world war.
He never wanted to be feted for being in a war.
Veteran's Day was
a non-holiday spent at the beach as a family. As he did every
spend the entire day with us, fishing, picnicking together, reading,
napping, singing together, hugging, and loving us.
On Veteran's Day, he'd "Go for Broke!" being a
great Dad, not just for him or for us, but for the buddies he lost.
Sacrificing their young
lives to defend The United States of America, those buddies never
made it home to become veterans, to become Dads.
Today, I remember them,
I remember Dad. I continue to live their motto, "Go for
Broke!" I hope I have become the best daughter that I can
be, not only for my Dad, but for all of them.
"Life is a Gift."
P.S. If you would
like to share a portion of yourself with words, in response to
this journal entry, you may do it here.
only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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