Author: Steve Sato
Puka Puka Parades, May 2006, 05/06
Copy of speech Steve Sato gave May 29, 2004 at the JACCC Memorial Court in LA. He recollects the memories of his father. (Editor’s Note: Although Steve Sato gave this speech several years ago, we believe it is apropos to reprint it again as a memorial tribute to those KIA and their families. Steve Sato was still a baby when his father, Shukichi Sato of F Company, was killed in Italy. In our December 2005 issue of the PPParade, we reported on Steve’s chance meeting at the Las Vegas mini-reunion with Charlie Nishimura, Shukichi’s foxhole buddy.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Gold Star Mothers and wives, honored guests, members of the Japanese American veterans’ organizations and friends, good morning. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you to remember and to memorialize all who have fallen in service to our great nation. I have personally been to many military cemeteries and as I looked across rows of crosses I realize that each marks the final resting place of American heroes of many different wars. They span generations of Americans, all different and yet all alike! They are all alike in a truly meaningful way in service to their country. Yet, with each marker there lies an association with many other lives. These are the next of kin (NOK) and other family members.
After being asked by the veterans’ groups to share some thoughts with you today, it seems that there are things in the past that I have chosen to be left unsaid. Today, I would like to share cherished memories of my mom and dad, primarily during the formative years of my youth. It has been said by many that it is difficult to share personal thoughts even with one’s own family. I am no exception! I am grateful that my family is here today so that I may express to them thoughts that should have been shared long ago. In our very brief journey through life, we all touch many lives. With your permission, I would like to dedicate my story not only to those who so bravely served but also to those who have graciously and bravely endured as the next of kin. I applaud the many that have participated in and assisted with the “Hanashi” program. The experiences of YOU, the veterans, must be documented for posterity. Perhaps, you, the NEXT OF KIN, will consider documenting your thoughts to make the novel complete.
A television reporter once said that, “Everybody has a story.” It is my hope to share with you what it has been like to be the sole surviving son of a veteran who was killed during the war. My story would not be complete if I did not share the story of a very special lady who was widowed at a very young age – my mother.
Where do I begin? My dad was born on the island of Kauai in Hawaii and came from a family of six boys, all born two years apart. Dad was the oldest of four brothers who served our country during WWII. My mother and dad were still newlyweds when war broke out and he left home for training on the Mainland. The very last time they saw each other was when Dad shipped out with the 100th Battalion to train in Wisconsin. They wrote to each other almost daily and her cherished letters from Dad were a constant reminder of the love that they shared.
Dad received training at both Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and Camp Shelby in Mississippi. He was then shipped overseas to North Africa and was killed in action during the Italian campaign on November 3, 1943. He had just turned 28 the month before. Mom became a war widow at the age of 25 and was left to care for a one year old son.
At first, just the strain of separation must have been very intense and trying. When Mom was subsequently notified that Dad had been killed, she naturally fell into great despair. I have but a few recollections of my early days as a youth and Mom did not talk about Dad very often. But, I vividly remember the frustrations and loneliness she must have felt. I remember Mom talking to me with a faltering voice and with tears in her eyes. She said, “Maybe we both should die too.” Although I was so very young and did not truly understand quite what she had said, I could however, sense the desperation in her voice. That might have been the very low point in her life. However, it ultimately become the turning point also. She went from almost total despair to become a person with great resolve and tremendous determination. From that time on, she would constantly remind me “we have to live long, for Dad’s share of life too.” Throughout the rest of her life, she never faltered and remained steadfast in her resolve. She always cherished happy memories of the very brief period she had shared with Dad. Grandma Sato, however, not only shared the grief of losing her son, but also carried great concerns for the safety of her remaining three sons still on active duty. Fortunately, all of them returned safely at war’s end.
Out of necessity, we lived with my grandmother and members of my mom’s family. At one time, there were ten people living in a two bedroom plantation home. The family gave us unconditional love and support and when growing up, I had lots of role models. I was the “kid without a father” and friends and neighbors would do their best to actively support and monitor my progress and growth. Mom and I cherished Dad’s memory by frequent visits to the gravesite at the veterans’ cemetary [sic] on Kauai.
As I grew older, I would naturally ask Mom more questions about Dad. Questions like “what did he enjoy doing, what did he like to eat, and what were his hobbies?” were asked frequently. At one point, I even asked about any arguments or unpleasant memories about Dad. She simply replied, “our time together was just too short for us to argue and to disagree. Therefore, I only have pleasant thoughts about your dad.” Mom truly did not count the time in days that she and Dad had spent together. Instead, she counted the GREAT memories. This sustained her for the rest of her life. She was not only my mother but also my mentor and friend. She influenced my life, just as all you have done for your children.
It was been rather difficult for me to select personal glimpses of my life to share with you. I have tried to select the ones that have greater meaning and interest. Most of these are reflections of my youth.
MEETING EARL FINCH
When I was approximately three, Mr. Earl Finch visited the island of Kauai. For those who might not be familiar with him, he was the gentleman who befriended many of the Nisei veterans while they lived in Mississippi. After the war ended, the veterans’ organizations invited him to Hawaii. He visited with all the veterans groups on all of the islands. During his visit to Kauai, he was introduced to my mom and me. When he found out that I was the son of a Nisei veteran killed in Italy and that we had never seen each other, he knelt down and spoke to me in a very gentle voice. I do not remember exactly what he said to me. What I do remember most of all is the tears flowing from his eyes and down his cheeks. He was wearing a “Go for Broke” ring, which he promptly took off his finger and presented to me. He said that he would like for me to have it. I was very young but the manner in which he spoke is something I will never forget. It is such a wonderful memory of a special and caring person. I never saw him again after that day but our meeting is still vivid in my mind. For me, the ring is a reminder of my father and the kind stranger that I met so long ago.
MEETING OF F COMPANY MEMBERS AT A REUNION ON MAUI
After my mom had passed away, I attended a F Company reunion in Hawaii. I had hoped to meet some of the men who had served in the same unit was my dad. Before going any further, I should give you a little background of what happened the night my dad died. A midnight crossing of the Volturno River was planned. The Company had a brief rest period, was served a hot meal and mail had finally caught up with the unit. It was at this “mail call” that the package my mom had sent finally reached Dad. The envelope contained letters and my first birthday photograph. Apparently Dad was so elated that he ran around showing my photo to everyone present. After all these many years, and at the reunion I attended, many of them still have vivid recollections of the photo they had seen that night. I heard so many of them saying, “Eh, you the baby in the photo Shukichi showed us that night.” They also remember him putting my photo in his backpack before making the river crossing at midnight. They all wanted me to know that I was with Dad on the night he died.
MY FRIEND. GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI
I would like to share a story of a particular friend that I grew up with on Kauai. We were the same age and started in Kindergarten together on the same day. We became good friends and participated in similar activities. During our Senior year, we were faced with the challenge of what to do after graduation. This was the era of the first man-made satellite, “Sputnik”, and the great space race. We were encouraged by our school counselors to pursue careers in science and I had decided to attend an engineering school. Because of the War Orphans Assistance Act (very similar to the GI Bill), I was able to attend a university of my choosing. My friend had always shown a deep interest to serve in the military and wanted to attend the military academy at West Point. At that time, this was breaking “new ground” because no one from our little island had ever received an appointment to go there by our congressmen. He became the first on our island to receive an appointment to West Point from Senator Daniel Inouye. Well, he graduated from West Point in 1965 and served with great distinction in Vietnam. As many of you have already surmised, my childhood friend is General Eric Shinseki. He became the first Asian American four-star General and Chief of Staff of the Army in June 1999.
Through the years, we had lost touch with each other and our visits together were quite infrequent. However, in June of 2003, I received an invitation to attend his retirement in Washington D.C. One of his last official acts as Chief of Staff of the Army was to place a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns at Arlington Cemetery. It was a beautiful day, the early morning sun cast golden rays of sunlight, and a cascade of brilliance and color fell over the structure. WHAT AN AWESOME SIGHT! After a time, we said our “alohas” and “we faded off into the sunset”. General Shinseki has never forgotten his “roots”. On a personal note, he mentioned to me that my dad and many others before him have made it possible for him to attain his position in the military. What a role model and positive influence he has been for the youth of our nation!
You, at home, who prayed for your sons and daughters in perilous situations can empathize and understand the frustrations of the next of kin. We as Americans always try to seek the truth. We strive to do the “right tiling”. Let us embrace the ideals of America, as well as to maintain our Asian identity.
Today, the National WWII Memorial is being dedicated in Washington D.C. in relatively close proximity to the Korean War Veterans and the Vietnam War Veterans Memorials on the Mall. HOWEVER. THE TRUE MEMORIAL IS THE NATION AND CULTURE WE CREATE FROM ALL OF THEIR SACRIFICES.
May I express my gratitude to the veterans of the 100th, 442nd, MIS, Korean War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Gulf War, Afghanistan, and all those who serve in Iraq. Thanks to you, the next of kin, for your strength, courage, dedication and devotion to perpetuate the memories of our many fallen heroes. I truly am humbled being in the presence of you who have served by deed, example and leadership. YOU have been my role models and have been an institution of courage, spirit and pride.
I hope that we will all remember those who have fallen and rejoice in those who still live and remember, LET NONE OF US FORGET JUST WHAT MEMORIAL DAY IS ALL ABOUT!
It has been said that soldiering is an affair of the heart, we can never pay enough for it! Next of kin are the soul and life’s blood of soldiers. Bless all of you and your expressions of love and honor. To all of you who served so bravely, well done and thank you! May God bless you and this most wonderful country of ours. Thank you.