Speech for Yoshiharu Satoh

Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, January 1996, 96-1

Ben Tamashiro’s speech given at the Brothers of Valor Monument Fundraising Testimonial Dinner. It is a biography of Yoshiharu Satoh from when he entered the war. It also touches upon Japanese American values and how it played out in the war and in modern day.


The seeds of Mr. Satoh’s story are said to lie “scattered around the globe, buried deep under the brutal chaos that was World War II.” It harbors the thought: “Judge each day not by the harvest, but by the seeds you plant.” I’d like to illuminate that with a story straight out of the experiences of that war.

Our immigrant forefathers from Japan brought with them to America their own set of values. Combined with our American ideals, they served to mold their offspring, the AJAs or Americans of Japanese ancestry, into the singular combat force they were to become when World War Two burst upon our nation.

Tamotsu Shimizu was the #1 scout in the 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company A, 100th Infantry Battalion. His father had come from Hiroshima and settled on the Ewa sugar plantation. He worked every day of the year to support a family of ten children, his only day off being New Year’s, or “oshogatsu.” Thus, it fell to
the mother to provide day-to-day comfort and emotional support to the children. And as for discipline, when she couldn’t handle a child, the father took over – with a stick he’d pick right off the ground, likely of mango or guava. Tamotsu says he now appreciates the swift and uncompromising whacks he used to get from the business end of those sticks.

He was in the first group of thirteen-hundred AJAs who were corralled from around the Territory and brought to Schofield Barracks in the wake of December 7, 1941, to become the genesis of the 100th Infantry Battalion. And before the new unit slipped out of Honolulu Harbor in early June 1942 for a seemingly untoward fate, he had a chance to run home to Ewa to bid good-bye to his father who gave him this parting advice: “I don’t care if you come home in a coffin or not, but fight well for your country. “And don’t bring shame to the family” … the words dropping like overripe seeds into Tamotsu’s soul.

In combat in Italy, Tamotsu was injured twice in the early fighting. Then, near Rome, he was injured a third time, losing his left arm in this encounter. After a year of rehabilitation in stateside hospitals, he finally came home to Ewa, and began picking up the strands of life he had left behind when he went off to war. One of the more delightful aspects of that life was the “furo” or Japanese-style communal bathhouse. Everyone in camp went to the furo for their evening bath. And now, as he made his way there, his father would follow him and there scrub his back for him – a son who had fought well for his country, and had brought pride and honor to the family.

In the years following, Tamotsu married a hometown girl, Yoneko; his parents passed away; he moved to Pearl City. One day while on a visit, I asked him how he gets his back scrubbed now that his father is gone, expecting what would have been a natural reply – a long handled brush, of course! But no, Yoneko
piped up: “I do.” When he goes for a bath, she explained, he leaves the door open. She stays in the living room, reading or doing whatever, all the while keeping an ear to the splashing water, and by it’s [sic] sound she can tell when it’s time to go in and scrub his back.

Which reminds me of the moment when he lost his arm in combat. He felt no pain in the initial shock of being hit and wondered why he kept falling to his left when he tried to get up. Then came the discovery and with it the stabbing pains. And in this moment of travail, of not knowing what was happening to him,
he began crying out to his mother for help: “Okaasan! Okaasan! Okaasan!” – the one person in his world who was always, there.

So, as much as seeds are often invoked as a metaphor for life, as in those times when nothing seems to move but the wind, we find Mr. Satoh continuing to plant his seeds here, there, wherever. And, thus, we come together this evening to honor him for always being there in support of the nisei veterans, once
again giving us a push …

Now in the development of the memorial honoring the 100th, the 442nd, the MIS, and the 1399th – to help make certain that the generations growing up in the new millennium will come to feel that wind emboldened by the drama, the anguish, and the consequences in the story of these four nisei units of World War Two.