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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Go For Broke

(Above: Lawson Sakai at the American cemetery in Epinal, France, visiting the graves of his friends who never came back.)

Next Monday, May 6, the Giants will celebrate their annual Japanese Heritage Night at AT&T Park by having Lawson Sakai throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Sakai, 89, is a veteran of E Company, Second Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese American World War II regiment that was awarded more medals, man for man, than any other military unit in American history.
"We are proud to recognize and honor America’s Nisei veterans of World War II," says Shana Daum, Giants vice president of public affairs and community relations. "Mr. Sakai represents the members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who made incredible sacrifices to protect our freedoms."
Four of those medals – all Purple Hearts – went to Sakai, for grievous injuries suffered in combat. He was actually wounded a fifth time, but he refused to let his name be put up for another medal because he didn't think his wound was serious enough.
This will be the first pitch he has thrown since Dec. 7, 1941, when he played third base for Compton Junior College. On that day he was listening to a pro football game on the radio when the broadcast was interrupted by a breathless announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
Irate, he marched down to the local Army recruiting office the next day to enlist. To his shock, he was told that he was no longer an American. He was now classified 4-C – "Enemy Alien," even though he was born right here in the USA.
The next thing he knew, he and his family were rounded up, along with more than 110,000 other Japanese Americans, and sent to euphemistically-named "relocation camps" out in the boondocks of Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona, where they spent the war behind barbed wire, where guards with machine guns were ready to shoot anyone who tried to escape.
Despite this, he and thousands of other Japanese Americans volunteered to fight for the country that did this to them.
During another time of national crisis - the Revolutionary War - Thomas Paine wrote, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country. But he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Lawson Sakai and his band of brothers in the 442 were winter soldiers. Their country may have betrayed them, but when their country needed them most, they kept the faith. And they deserve our love and thanks.
Every year on Armed Forces Day - the third Saturday in May – the men of E Company meet at Roberts Park in Oakland for a memorial service honoring their comrades who never came back. And, once again, they invite you to join them.
Roberts Park is easy to find. Just 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 parking lot beyond it, and you'll spot me and a bunch of other people. We'll gather there and then walk about a hundred yards or so into the park to the site of the service.
The ceremony will start at Noon. See you there.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

It All Started With Eliza

If you've been reading this column for a while, you know that I'm an animal lover, especially cats.
But what you probably don't know is that I used to hate cats.
No kidding. They're aloof and unfriendly, right?
Wrong, of course. That's the telltale sign of somebody who's never met a cat.
But that all changed 35 years ago when I fell in love with a woman who had a cat. It was a pretty little black and white female named K.C. (short for kitty cat).
For the first six months we lived together, I refused to let the cat into our bedroom.
But one day K.C. decided enough was enough, and she proceeded to seduce me.
Wham! It didn't take her 24 hours to have me wrapped around her little paw. By the time my girlfriend and I broke up a few months later, K.C. and I were so tight, she offered to give her to me.
But by then I had learned enough about cats to know that K.C. would be happier with her, so I declined. But the damage was done: I was hooked.
Moral: There's no zealot like a converted sinner.
Two weeks after I moved into a new place, there was a knock on my door. Standing on the front step were four little urchins from the elementary school across the street, holding a tiny gray female tabby kitten they had found abandoned on their schoolyard.
"Mister, did you lose this kitty?" they asked.
"No," I said, "but I'll take her."
That happened on this day in 1979. I named her Eliza Doolittle because the first thing she said to me was "Aaoowwww!" We were together for almost 17 years, and she made every day a joy. She was the love of my life (four-footed-version).
After Eliza died I adopted a gray female kitten, whom I named Nelly.
She was as sweet as can be, but it became quickly obvious that she needed a playmate. So I adopted another kitten and named her Phoebe.
The two of them got along well enough, but about five months later Nelly got outside and was killed.
Phoebe mourned bitterly for about 20 seconds, and then suddenly I could see the light bulb go "click!" above her head.
"Hey, this is great!" I could see her thinking. "All this to myself!"
Phoebe and I were together for 15 years until I finally had to put her to sleep last spring, and I cried many bitter tears.
Then last August I adopted my Pizza Girls, Sally and Pepe (named after the two iconic pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut, where I went to college). I love them a lot, and they love me, too, and we couldn't be happier.
But it all started with Eliza. As much as I love my Pizza Girls, I still think of her every day, and I still miss her.
The only reason I hope Heaven is real is because I'd like to see Eliza and my other cats again.
But I'm not holding my breath. As Mark Twain said, "If you go to Heaven, leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, the dog would go in and you would stay out."
And that goes for cats, too.