Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pearl Harbor Day

Last night at Mass, I was pleased to hear my priest reference Pearl Harbor Day in his message.  He spoke on the need to remember those who lost their lives and recognize their sacrifice to preserve freedom.  This morning, I was delighted to find that many of my Facebook friends had posted references to Pearl Harbor.  Growing up, my grandmother often spoke of Pearl Harbor Day.  Since it was a Sunday -- the one day of the week that my grandfather worked a short day as a farmer -- my grandparents were on a date that afternoon.  They had recently started dating, and he took her to see the movie "One Foot in Heaven".  As they left the theatre, they heard the news of the attack.

In January 2012, I had the honor of visiting Pearl Harbor with my good friend Tonja.  It was a beautiful day, and we were both profoundly touched by the experience of seeing Pearl Harbor.  While there, I met the gentleman who is shown in the picture above.  He was a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, and was signing copies of his memoir.  I enjoyed speaking with him, and had to laugh as he expressed that one of the best parts of signing books was pictures with "pretty girls"!

It seems at times as though the Pearl Harbor attack was long ago, yet it impacted American lives in ways that still resonate today.  My grandmother would lose her beloved cousin Ray in the Battle of the Bulge, and I have the Purple Heart which he was awarded and that his mother gave to my grandmother knowing how close she was to Ray.  My grandfather initially anticipated that he would serve in the military since he had been in ROTC while at OSU.  Instead, the government mandated that farms must stay operating to support the war effort.  As the only child of a handicapped father, my grandfather instead stayed home to manage the farm.

Since Matt & I began dating, I have enjoyed learning about his family heritage.  When we started dating the difference in our ethnic backgrounds was not something which I even really considered . . . Until the first time that someone made a slur against Japanese people in our presence.  I suspect this individual had no idea that Matt's slightly ambiguous ethnic appearance was actually half-Japanese -- and I think the situation discomforted me far more than it did him -- but for the first time I really considered the differences in our background.  One of these differences, was the way that World War II impacted our families as Americans.  While my grandparents worked to support the war effort and lost family members, Matt's grandparents were imprisoned by their own country.

As a young person, I became aware that families of Japanese heritage had been imprisoned during the war, but it never touched me personally as anything more than distant history until I began researching Matt's grandparents.  There is a very useful website maintained by the government that provides records for Americans of Japanese descent who were relocated to camps.  Matt's grandmother and her family were sent to a camp built in Arkansas.  This was the same location where George Takei was imprisoned as a child, and I like to imagine that he & Matt's grandmother played together as children!

Matt's grandfather was a young adult when the war started, and his family was taken from their home in Seattle and sent to the Minidoka camp in the middle of Idaho.  Ted Karikomi had never been to Japan, spoke no Japanese, and was a high school graduate with a job -- yet was still considered enough of a threat that his entire family had to be relocated from their homes and imprisoned.  On archived records of Japanese relocations, it was noted by government officials what potential the individual might have for work.  The mention of being a possible typist or chauffeur does not indicate the future success that Ted Karikomi would find as a decorated enlisted man in the military or as a family doctor in rural Michigan.  It amazes me that this young man chose to join the war effort as soon as he was permitted, fighting for the very nation that had mandated the forced relocation of his family.  That was how much he valued his country.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragedy whose impact is still felt.  My grandfather was born in 1919, and Matt's grandfather in 1922.  They were both young Americans who loved their country and served it to the best of their ability during the war and after . . . as citizens, husbands, and fathers.  Yet, their experience during the war was vastly different, primarily because of their heritage.  We are so blessed to live in this great country of freedom, and -- much like my pastor said -- we must never forget those who have helped to protect those freedoms.  There is no other nation on earth like America, no other place where immigrants from any continent can build such free lives.  And these liberties must be protected from all aggressors.  As we live our fortunate first world lives, it behooves us to remember those who suffered to ensure our present blessings.  And we must always be willing to share that burden to protect American liberty for future generations!

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