By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
Former astronaut Daniel Tani’s talk about his four months aboard the International Space Station was the highlight of the Go For Broke National Education Center’s annual “Evening of Aloha,” held Sept. 27 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.
The event was a salute to the Nisei veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, 22 of whom were introduced on stage to a standing ovation. The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment Color Guard came from Hawaii to post the colors. Lauren Kinkade-Wong sang the national anthem. Serving as emcees were ABC 7 news anchor David Ono and actress Tamlyn Tomita.
Tani, the keynote speaker, was a crew member of the shuttle Endeavour in December 2001 when it visited the International Space Station to deliver supplies and take crew members back to Earth. From October 2007 to February 2008, he lived aboard the space station and performed five spacewalks. He is now vice president of mission and cargo operations at Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va.
“The way I got here is not through the military, so I don’t have a direct connection to the 442nd,” Tani said. “I’ve been honored to hear the stories and to be involved with this group in other forms.”
While showing family photos on the screen, Tani said, “I do believe I’m the embodiment of the American dream, and I believe the crux of the dream was taught to me when I was a very young boy. My family would say, ‘You can do anything you want. You can be anybody you want. You can do anything.’ I believed it … What I didn’t appreciate until later in my life was that … I was of the first generation of my ancestry that you could tell that to and be honest about it.
“My parents didn’t have that privilege. My grandparents didn’t have that privilege. We’re here tonight to really honor those heroes that have enabled me and those of my generation and the younger generations to be given the possibility to do whatever we are able to do. We can marry whoever we want, we can go study wherever we want, we can apply for any jobs that we want. We can do the wildest things we can imagine — that includes going into space.”
Tani’s parents, Henry and Rose, were interned at the Tanforan Assembly Center in the Bay Area and later the War Relocation Authority camp in Topaz, Utah during World War II. His oldest brother, Dick, was born behind barbed wire.
As he grew up, Tani had heard stories about camp, but after he became a father himself, he had a greater understanding of how hard it must have been to raise a baby while “living in horse stable, living in a small cubicle with dust coming up through the floor.”
He recalled asking his mother, “Why did you go? How could you have tolerated it?” He quoted her as saying, “That’s what they told us to do, to be American, to be patriotic. This is what my government asked me to do. We weren’t happy to do it, but we were going to comply.”
“That seems kind of naïve, but I’m blown away by the dignity of her response to dealing with such indignity,” Tani said. “One of the great ironies in my life is that my parents had cameras and radios taken away from them, they weren’t trusted with cameras and radios … Yet one generation later, that same government spent about $1 million a year teaching me how to use cameras and radios. I take great pride not only in my family but my government to get beyond such a black mark in our history.”
Upon release from camp, the family moved to St. Louis, where two brothers and a sister were born, then to Philadelphia, where Tani was born. “When I was 3 years old, we moved to a suburb of Chicago, and five months after we moved to Chicago my father passed away, leaving my mother with two in college, two in high school, and me in preschool … She did an unbelievably awesome job raising a family.”
He showed a photo of himself standing with his mother in front of the Endeavour the night before his first flight, and noted that his “maiden spaceship” is now in L.A. on permanent display at the California Science Center.
After returning from his first mission, Tani trained for five years for his extended stay on the International Space Station.
Many relatives and friends came to Florida to see the launch of the shuttle Discovery, which was delayed for days by technical and weather problems. He remembered thinking as the shuttle finally reached space, “My guests can go home. Thank God.”
Tani noted that it took 10 years to build the station with components from Japan and Europe as well as Seattle and Huntington Beach. “You should go outside and see it fly overhead … It’s your tax dollars paying for it — you should go see it,” he said.
Discussing life in space, he said, “It’s the universal opinion of all astronauts that two favorite thing are flying, meaning floating [in zero gravity] and looking out the window. I took about 14,000 pictures in my four months in space.”
Tani showed the audience spectacular shots taken from more than 200 miles up, including the Gulf of Mexico (with Houston, home of the astronauts, clearly visible), the glaciers of Patagonia on the southern end of South America, the clear waters of the Caribbean, the deserts of Africa and Australia, the Canadian Rockies, San Francisco and even the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where Tani has relatives.
There were also night views of the West Coast and East Coast with patches of light marking the major cities, a lighting storm over Baja California, and the aurora borealis seen from above. “It’s unbelievable this happens on our planet. Look at the way the lights dance,” Tani said.
“We live on an unbelievably beautiful planet,” Tani remarked. “We’ve sent spacecraft to Mars and the moon … They look like planets with rocks, they’re gray or they’re red … but when you see pictures of Earth it’s like a different dimension of textures and colors.”
The shuttle Atlantis picked him up and brought him back to Kennedy Space Center. It was “bittersweet” to be bound by gravity again and realizing “I was not going to be able to experience floating anymore,” he said, but at the same time, “I finally got to see what I’d been waiting for — that’s Jane, my wife, [and daughters] Keiko and Lily. They were 3 and 1 at the time.”
Tani closed with a photo of him and his mother in front of the Discovery the day before launch. It was the last time they would see each other in person, as she passed away while he was in orbit.
To the young people in the audience, Tani said, “You can be whatever you want … and you owe it to some of the great heroes in this room … without them you might not have those opportunities.”
He added, “As a Japanese American, it’s my experience … that we’re kind of in the fold, we’re kind of mainstream. I don’t feel discrimination, I don’t feel like an outsider in America, and that’s fantastic, But I believe that we need to makes sure that no other Americans feel that way, and I think there are many … Muslim Americans now that might be feeling the same way. We have to remember what it’s like to be on the outside and be sensitive to that and make sure that ‘Americans’ means Americans …
“It’s not just citizenship of America, it’s citizenship of Earth … My takeaway from living in space … when I looked at the planet, I was fortunate to not see political boundaries or religious boundaries or any boundaries. I saw lakes, I saw rivers, I saw incredibly beautiful things. And if I could bring everybody up there and have everybody experience the pride in citizenship of the planet, I would hope maybe that the types of pride that separate people might be lessened a bit and we would remind ourselves that we’re all on the planet together.”
Ono, who has emceed the event several times and produced documentaries about the Nisei soldiers and the internment, was presented with the Go For Broke Award by GFBNEC President Don Nose for contributions to the organization.
“I grew up in Texas. My family’s actually from Japan, they’re not from the U.S.,” Ono said. “I wasn’t familiar with the Japanese American story … what happened to most of your families. Coming from Texas to California was a great education for me. I was embraced by this community … That embracing of people and families is what allowed me to learn your story …
“When learned about the story of the Nisei soldiers, when I learned about the internment … it made me ask questions about why the rest of the country doesn’t talk about this regularly. Why don’t we have this in a bigger way in the history books? Why don’t we see movies about it? Why doesn’t mainstream American know this story? …
“My job is to tell a number of stories, not just ethnic stories … but this is a story that I find engaging and that I truly love to tell. If feel like we’re just scraping the service … It’s allowed me to start doing longer-format shows that I didn’t realize I could do … Each time we done of these long-format pieces, I feel so rewarded, more so than my regular job.”
Ono praised GFBNEC for creating a video library of interviews with Nisei veterans, many of whom have since passed on. “The fact that that library exists is going to allow young journalists to come forward and do their own stories … Because of you, 25 years from now the world’s doing to know the story.”
Tomita, who described herself as “an older sister” to Ono, said, “It’s been a real treasure to give him a part of what it means to be Japanese American here in Southern California … to show him that this is a part of him, that he carries his mom’s name, that he gives it to his daughter, and that he shares with us these stories. This is what connects every single one of us in this room.”
Another Go For Broke Award was presented to Jason Young, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, who recently retired from the Veterans Administration, where he worked on programs and services to address problems related to post-traumatic stress syndrome. The presenter was Lt. Col. (retired) Garfield Findlay, the highest-ranking military officer currently on the GFBNEC board.
“I’ve always considered myself to be fortunate because these ears have listened to their stories, these eyes have seen their pain, this heart has felt it,” Young said. “… The best gift that that we can be given … is the ability to be of service to others. So being of service to you has given me a great gift of fulfillment and meaning in life. For that I say to you, domo arigato.”
Bill Seki, chairman of GFBNEC, thanked the City of Alhambra, and Mayor Gary Yamauchi in particular, for choosing a “Go For Broke” theme for its float in the Rose Parade, which will feature portraits of Nisei Medal of Honor recipients. The city has also provided 100 tickets for veterans and their families to attend the parade.
Irene Hirano Inouye, who served as honorary co-chair of the event with Steve Morikawa, assistant vice president at American Honda Motor Co. Inc., spoke of her late husband, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. “Nisei military stories are something that was very important to Dan. It was important to him not because he knew the story himself, but because he knew what the story stood for — a dedication to country and family that reflected unmatched courage and loyalty. What Dan hoped was that the history and the lessons of their sacrifices to America would never be forgotten.”
Nose added, “As important as it is to celebrate the past, we are even more excited about the future as we anticipate our move to our permanent home in the Nishi Hongwanji historic building in Little Tokyo next year and the opening of our education exhibit in the spring of 2016 … It will tie together the history of the Japanese American World War II experience and modern events in a dynamic and participatory way.”
Entertainment was provided by Kanani Kalama Hula Studio and the Grateful Crane Ensemble. The menu was prepared by chefs Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurants Worldwide, Jackie Lau of Roy’s Restaurants-Hawaii, Akira Hirose of Maison Akira in Pasadena, Takashi Yagihashi of Takashi and Slurping Turtle in Chicago, and Jose Velasquez of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
The program also included a live auction, an opportunity drawing, the introduction of the winners of GFBNEC’s essay contest for high school and college students, and the “Rally the Troops” fundraising drive, which ultimately raised nearly $500,000.