nicole nishizawaBy NICOLE NISHIZAWA, Puniahou School, Honolulu

Second Prize, Essay, High School

I like to remember my Grandpa Toshi as a living history book. In his time, he experienced first-hand key events of the 20th century.

He was raised by immigrant parents, struggled through the Great Depression, and enlisted in World War II. In his training, my grandpa witnessed the racial segregation in Mississippi and in Europe, contributed to the liberation of Bruyères, helped rescue the Lost Battalion, and was one of the first to discover the Dachau concentration camp. By the age of 25, he had come into contact with a number of people that most don’t meet in their entire lifetimes.

In his time at Dachau, my Grandpa told the story of how his unit, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, found the fenced compound on their way into Germany. At the time, concentration camps were unfamiliar, so he and his buddies felt somewhat fearful of what they had stumbled upon. On entering the fences, he witnessed first-hand the hollowed, emaciated and starving people.

My grandpa and his buddies’ first instinct was to feed them whatever rations they had. However, an order from their lieutenant prohibited the act, knowing they didn’t have enough food for the number of people in need. Nevertheless, against orders, my grandpa and his buddies couldn’t help but give the prisoners coffee, crackers, candy – whatever they had.

This one selfless act demonstrated the type of care my grandfather had for others without regard for race or ethnicity. My grandfather, wise beyond his years, saw people as simply people. As a Japanese American, he too was discriminated against as a possible “threat to the United States.” However, he found a way to turn that injustice into an opportunity to learn open-mindedness and acceptance.

My grandpa didn’t know what exactly he would experience when he signed up for the 442nd, but those years forever changed his life. As a recently graduated senior in high school, I’m not facing advanced artillery or German armies (and I can thank God and my grandpa for that). However, as I go off to college across the country, I will have to trust in what the unpredictability of life will bring. No matter what incredible situation I find myself in, I will strive to live as selflessly and courageously as my grandpa did in the midst of every sunshine and every storm.

Experiencing everything he experienced at such a young age is almost unimaginable, yet the strength of my grandpa’s character got him through it all. With his values of courage, selflessness, and tolerance in mind, I too hope to weather and stand tall in the challenges of years to come.

I enjoy interior design, eating at new restaurants, and pitching for my softball team. My grandfather was a humble man and rarely shared his incredible stories. However, through this essay contest, I was able to share part of his inspiring life with a wider audience.

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