It’s a Small World: Larry Miyasato

An Imin Centennial Series Saluting the Men of the 100th Infantry Battalion

Hawaii Herald, 7/19/85

By Ben H. Tamashiro

(Also republished in the Puka Puka Parades, v.40 no. 2, April- June 1986)

Born 67 years ago in Kekaha, a little sugar plantation town on the western edge of Kauai, Larry Miyasato, has been living and working in Montana ever since he came out of the war.

Although, Montana is the fourth largest state in the union, its population has never matched its size. The fact is that Hawaii’s population is greater than Montana’s by several hundred thousand. This factor may have been the very reason why Miyasato had chosen to stake his future there; he was a bright, ambitious, young man, fresh out of law school, eager to lay a foundation for himself, but finding Hawaii too cluttered to his liking. Whatever the reason, when Miyasato opted to go there, he surely could not have foreseen that he would one day be the only nisei attorney in that state, a distinction that may stand for a while. But more than that his choice demonstrates how one man pursuing his instincts can sometimes have his cake and eat it too.

Miyasato’s parents moved from Kekaha to Kapaa when he was 7 years old. Kapaa was then a pineapple town, its economic life infused by independent pineapple growers whose fields in the highlands above the town dominated the country landscape. Then, without warning the local cannery shut down. It would buy no more fruit from the growers. The action brought great distress, and Larry himself felt the consequences of the shutdown, as his father was one of the growers. “Young as I was,” he says. “I had the feeling that something was not right … farmers working on a contract suddenly cast off, pushed aside as though their welfare did not matter at all . . . contracts ignored, not worth a damn.” He believes that his first stirring of social consciousness came out of that situation.

In those days, the only high school on the island was at Lihue. Larry graduated from there in 1935. “And I could recognize only one building when I returned there this June for the 50th anniversary celebration of my graduation class.” Back then, whatever thoughts he may have harbored about his future were shortly interrupted by the war.

He was drafted into the Army. 1OOth Infantry Battalion, part of the original group of 1,432. After months of training in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisiana, they embarked for overseas duty out of the port of New York in mid-August, 1943; two weeks later they reached Oran, North Africa. There the 100th received its combat assignment, becoming a unit of the 34th Division, the first American division to be shipped oversea after Pearl Harbor.

After North Africa was secured, the Allies turned their attention to Italy landing in early September 1943. Three weeks later, as part of the Allied Fifth Army under General Mark Clark, the 34th landed at Salerno Beach, below Naples.

That first winter campaign of three months was torture, as the 100th fought its way up the valleys, slopes and mountain tops of the Apennines mountain range. The German 10th Army made the Allies pay dearly for every inch of ground it gave. Then at Cassino, in the dead of winter, the Germans stopped the Allies cold. It was here that Miyasato, a rifleman with Company A, was wounded. And he also came down with a painful case of “trench feet,” a euphemism for frozen feet, a condition which could have lead to gangrene.

Although he eventually recovered from both the wound and the trench feet, Miyasato was declared unfit for further combat duty. He volunteered for guard duty with a military unit providing security for Italians transporting supplies and rations from Sardinia to Corsica, islands lying off the western coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“We were moving supplies from Sardinia to Bastia,” explains Miyasato. “The shuttling was done at night since most of Italy was still in the hands of the Germans. Besides, there were constant reports of U-boats and German vessels in the area, but we did not see any. Four to five cargo vessels were used in the operation. Our job was to sail with the Italians who manned the vessels and guard the supplies during transit until they reached Bastia.”

Relieved from duty after nine months, Miyasato was then placed on limited duty in a replacement depot. After returning to the United States, he marked time for three months in Camp Ritchie, Maryland, then finally returned home to Hawaii. He was discharged from the Army in 1945.

In the immediate postwar period, he decided to continue with his education. After graduating from the University of Hawaii, he went on to the University of Denver Law School. Why there? “Because,” he says,” it lays emphasis upon trial work, the place where hard work and perceptiveness, and the skill of those who participate in a trial, can make a particular difference .. . “So there, in that school, his legal training began to give form and substance to his feelings … the injustices he had witnessed or experienced from his days on Kauai to war on the battlefields of Italy.

Miyasato graduated in 1954, returned to Hawaii and passed the bar exam but, as he looked about him, felt that the prospects of making a living here as a lawyers seemed very poor indeed and he wondered whether this was the right place to be hanging up his shingle. He had married Jean Dohi in 1948 and their daughter, Ann, was born at about this time. He had tasted hard times on Kauai and in combat, had seen enough of the indifferences of man and how this makes him come to accept as a matter of course the injustices of one against the other. He decided to shift his chances to Glasgow, Montana, his wife’s hometown.

Glasgow, population under 5,000, is an agricultural town up in the northeast corner of Montana, 60 miles from the Canadian border of Saskatchewan. It is a region of long summers and cold winters, of dry prairie lands that stretch for as far as the eye can see and upon which deer and antelope roam. The air there is crystal clear, but water softeners are required since its vast mineral deposits make water hard, and rainfall averages only 10 inches a year. It is a place that sharply contrasts the verdant Rockies of western Montana.

The town has its Glasgow International Airport, and the Custer Battlefield National Monument lies on a straight line down south near Billings, which marks the site of “Custer’s Last Stand.”

Jean Dohi was born in Glasgow. Her father migrated to Seattle in 1890, then apparently followed the railroad tracks eastward. The Seattle-Minneapolis. Burlington Northern runs alongside the town today- and settled in Glasgow where he opened a cafe. (The only other Japanese family there also operated a cafe.) Jean, the youngest of five girls, as well as the others, spoke English only; her father served only American dishes in his café.

When the war broke out, the FBI came to check out the Dohi family. They closed the café, then allowed it to reopen a week later. They were not interned. After the war, Jean came to Hawaii to visit a sister, Corinne. She started working at Aloha Motors, where she met Miyasato.

Up to recently, Miyasato had an associate in his law office but is on his own now. He’s in the process of winding down his practice in preparation for retirement. He entered the Montana bar in 1955. “While carrying on my private practice, mainly in the area of civil cases, I’ve held a number of state and federal positions over the years-state prosecuting attorney, county attorney, United States magistrate, and so on. Since Glasgow is a farming community, legal disputes are more likely to arise over boundary and estate matters, partnerships and personal injuries. In all, I’ve been able to maintain good relations with everyone concerned, including the governor.

“In my time I’ve taken on some tough cases and I think it is partly because of that willingness to take on these tough ones that the people have come to accept me for what I am. And, oh yes, lots of the disputes involve Indian jurisdiction since part of our county is in the Indian Reservation.”

How is it that he has come to focus his efforts around public interest law? “Well,” says Larry, “someone has to be willing to represent the ordinary guy. These are the people who cry out for legal assistance. They are the ones who test one’s sincerity and honesty. They deserve the best of whatever we can give them. That is the function of a country lawyer – do the best you can for them.”

Not too long ago, Larry was the principal speaker at the Glasgow Veterans’ Day banquet. The report of the affair in the Glasgow Courier opened in this manner: “When Japan lit the torch that pulled the United States into World War II at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Larry Miyasato, Glasgow attorney, was there. “The story went on to pick up portions of Larry’s speech in which he recounted some of the things that had happened to him after Pearl Harbor and his subsequent service with the 100th.

Doesn’t the memory of those war years exert some kind of a pull upon him to return to the Islands? As he looks forward to retirement, what about those other memories: the sound of mangoes, for instance, falling to the ground at this time of the year; the sight of the rolling sea smashing upon the lava coasts; the smell of burning fields of sugar cane in the flatlands of Kekaha ; the taste of overripe pineapples lying in the sun? Although he had chosen to go to Glasgow ostensibly because the work prospects in Hawaii were less than encouraging, the underlying motive for his move was Jean herself. Says he, simply, “It’s her hometown.”

And home is where the heart is.