In a little bit of irony, I've been working on an oral history project called SOLDIER'S VOICES in which ten writers/actors interviewed soldiers from the past five wars and turned the interviews into monologues, scenes and stories. We're performing it for the final time tonight, Veteran's Day, at the Actors' Gang as part of their WTF festival.
In a bit of greater irony, I'm also speaking at a fundraiser for the GO FOR BROKE Foundation, which is compiling videotaped interviews of Nikkei veterans of which my father was one. They're going to play a few minutes from his interview and I had to view a 27 minute segment and give input on what my favorite portions were. I've been really busy, and felt pressed for time, and when I went to the website, I had problems making it play, so by the time I actually started watching it, I was feeling like, "OK, let's get this over, I'm already way behind at work." At first, I watched dispassionately, thinking thoughts like, "Man, he had the hiccups really bad during this interview," and "Wow, look how old he looks! He must've only been 72 or 73 there, I don't remember him looking that old..." before it hit me: I was watching and listening to my father, and seeing all the things that I loved/respected/feared about him: The depth of his feelings, the stoicism with which he described his experiences, and his opinions, which included a potshot or two at the No No Boys, something about which we (needless to say) disagreed.
I was a little shaken up and wondered how he'd feel about my upcoming play, but when I think about what he did see of my work, I knew that he would tell me what he disagreed about but that he would be proud of the work itself. Maybe wishful thinking, but I thought about it long and hard and I'm fairly certain that I know that much about him.
Anyway, since it's Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share the brief remarks I'm supposed to make on Saturday. Happy Veteran's Day to all who sacrificed for their ideals.
Remarks for Go For Broke Foundation:
Probably every child of the Nisei soldiers would say the same thing that I’m about to say and that is, I could never get my dad to talk about the war in any meaningful way…he would be self-deprecating about his service, saying he got into the war late, after the worst fighting, that he just carried a litter for the wounded, and mostly said that there was nothing heroic about what he did, it was the other guys who faced the worst. Once my sisters and I learned about the internment camps and the exploits of the 442, we hounded him, and he’d just say all that stuff is in the past.
I was lucky enough to be visiting him and my mother in Seattle after his Hanashi interview and when he went bowling, my mom said, “Hey, someone interviewed Dad about the 442 and they gave us the videotape – you want to watch? He’s never let me watch it.” So we watched it and I was stunned by how many stories he had, the kind of fighting he saw, the thoughts he had about his service, the thoughts he had about war. The next morning, I asked him why he’d tell a stranger with a video-camera stories he wouldn’t tell us, and he said he just didn’t want to burden us with these stories. I told him these stories aren’t a burden, they are part of who he is and therefore part of who we are, and that started the last real conversation I’d have with him about his life because the next time I saw him was after he’d had a massive stroke.
I am so grateful to the Go For Broke Foundation because without this interview, there is so much I never would have known about my father. These videos are an invaluable tool for education and keeping the experiences of the Nikkei veterans alive. There’s no comparison between the facts that you can read in a book and the experience of hearing what happened from the men who experienced it. What they did for us should never be forgotten and with the help of these videos, hopefully, they never will be.
Before I came here tonight, I watched a part of my father’s video and again, I was so thankful for the fact that it exists. My father died in 2000, about a year or two after the interview, but for 27 minutes on that day, I got to visit with him again.
Thank you all for your support of this organization and thank you Go For Broke National Education Center.