A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Go For Broke!

As I mentioned last week, I've been writing this column for 27 years, and in that time I've had the pleasure of meeting more wonderful people than I can count and the honor of telling their stories. 
But if you were to ask me which story is my favorite, it's easy: the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat team, the Japanese American World War II unit that was awarded more medals, man for man, than any other military unit in American history.
Put yourself in their position on Dec. 7, 1941. You're a typical 18-year-old American boy, focused on baseball, cars and girls (not necessarily in that order).
You hear the news about Pearl Harbor and immediately march down to the recruiting office to volunteer.
But they turn you down. Suddenly, you're not an American citizen anymore, even though you were born right here. Overnight, you've been reclassified as 4-C – "enemy alien."
The next thing you know, you and your family have been arrested and shipped off to a Godforsaken hellhole, euphemistically called a "relocation camp," leaving your home, your business and all your possessions behind, never to see them again.
But you still want to defend your country, even though it has treated you so shabbily. You keep volunteering, and you keep getting turned down.
Finally, by 1943, the Army is so desperate for manpower it creates a segregated all-Japanese American unit called the 442nd Regimental Team. All the officers are white, of course.
A few of them are decent human beings. But most, especially the general in charge, think of you as nothing better than cannon fodder. So they throw you into the most dangerous battles rather than risk white soldiers' lives.
That's partly how you and your buddies got so many medals. A lot of them were purple hearts.
After the war, you come back, get your parents and your little brothers and sisters out of the camps, and begin the process of rebuilding your life. And for the rest of that life, you live in a way that brings honor to the memory of your dead comrades.
Twenty-five years ago, the veterans of E Company of the 442nd RCT planted a redwood sapling in Oakland's Roberts Park and placed a memorial plaque next to it to honor their buddies who never came back.
And every year on the third Saturday in May – Armed Forces Day - they come back to Roberts Park for a memorial service. Over the years, that service has been broadened to include all the heroes of World War II.
This year's service will be held May 19. And, as they do every year, the men of Easy Company invite you to join them.
Roberts Park is easy to find. Take Skyline Boulevard and follow the signs for the Chabot Space & Science Center. About a mile before you get to the Center, you'll see a turnoff to Roberts Park on your right.
Go though the first parking lot to the second lot beyond it, and you'll spot me and a bunch of other people. We'll gather there at 11:45 a.m., then walk about a hundred yards  into the park to the memorial sapling, which by now has grown into a towering tree.
The service begins at Noon. I'm looking forward to seeing you there.


Anonymous said...

Great piece, and great reminder. It strikes me that World War II offered more than one critical example of the maxim "Never Forget"

Anonymous said...

There's a wonderful book titled Stubborn Twig that was recommended by librarians across Oregon. It tells the story of a Japanese American family in Hood River, OR, and includes the issues of internment camps and discrimination.
One family member came to speak at my local library and shared some fascinating stories. Sue Cowan

Bob Allison said...

Thanks for keeping that important piece of history alive. Sorry I couldn't make the event. I did play a medley in tribute to our Armed Forces on Saturday at one of my nursing home shows. Wish I head read your story first so I could have included it. See you in a couple of weeks.
Barnacle Bob