The COVID-19 era has again impacted the way in which we are able to recognize and honor those heroes whose lives we lost in military service to our nation. As many of the annual Los Angeles County and Orange County regional Memorial Day services have been canceled due to safety concerns, the 2021 Memorial Day observance at the Japanese American National War Memorial Court has grown to include a coalition of sponsors and representatives of the various communities.
Two Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, 4th District Gardena Post 1961 and Kazuo Masuda Post 3670, and the Go For Broke National Education Center joined host Veterans Memorial Court Alliance in co-sponsoring this ceremony and presenting a floral wreath to mark this occasion.
Our keynote speaker, Mr. Wade Ishimoto, is a Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) lifetime member, and we are grateful to JAVA President Gerald Yamada for his recommendation of him to provide a special message for this observance. To say Mr. Ishimoto is very accomplished in his service to his (and our) nation would be a vast understatement at best.
Serving as this year’s MC, Helen Ota introduced Mr. Ishimoto with the following: He is a distinguished senior fellow with the Joint Special Operations University. Mr. Ishimoto retired as the special assistant to the deputy under secretary of the Navy as a highly qualified expert in 2012, and was previously the senior advisor to the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict from 2004 to 2007.
In addition, he is a retired Army Special Forces officer who served multiple tours in Vietnam and a charter member of the Delta Force and its intelligence officer. Mr. Ishimoto is also a Special Operations Command Commando Hall of Fame inductee. He has many accomplishments and we invite you to learn more about him by visiting memorialcourtalliance.org.
Wade’s words were honest, raw, and contemplative. As he spoke of those friends he lost in conflicts, he reminded us that although the focus of Memorial Day is to honor the memory of those who didn’t make it home, we cannot forget the families, friends and comrades who bear the weight of this sacrifice. As one young Gold Star wife recently shared, “From that day on, every day was Memorial Day.”
In telling the story of those friends he lost, he also showed us how they will live on in our memories, and how finally finding the inner strength to tell someone what he bore witness to was the beginning of his own path to healing. In allowing us the privilege of hearing his experience, he again does service to us all and for our nation.
For those returning military service women and men, the importance of sharing even the slightest, seemingly inconsequential detail can bring some peace-of-mind for the family by confirming the strength of their love, giving clarity to the lack of details, and illustrating that sense of security made in the bond between comrades-in-arms.
Thirteen years after the loss of his friend, a soldier told the Gold Star wife the details of her husband’s loss and how he fastened their picture and a bit of her dress fabric, which carried the scent of her perfume, to the inside of his shirt. Hearing this provided her with a loving and cherished memory. In sharing he was able to shed some of the weight he had been caring and she noticed a relaxed change in posture as this was the first time he had spoken to anyone about these memories.
This story hit closer to home for the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance family, as the name of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Fuchigami Jr. was recently added to the wall, joining that community of heroes. He was an Apache helicopter pilot who lost his life while supporting ground troops in Logar Province in Afghanistan on Nov. 20, 2019. We again extend our condolences, thoughts and prayers to his wife McKenzie, his family, friends and comrades.
The ceremony was well attended by representatives from community organizations, including Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum, and a range of people active in community service. As each person was announced they placed a white carnation by one of the black granite walls inscribed with nearly 1,200 names of those of Japanese heritage who died in U.S. military service, from 1898 on the USS Maine to the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We hope that this Memorial Day will remind all Americans that their freedom came at a price that was paid by others who answered the call to service.
VMCA would like to thank the following people whose participation made this service possible:
Opening remarks — Helen Ota, mistress of ceremonies
Posting and retiring of colors — Marine Corps Jr. ROTC, Redondo Union High School
Invocation — Rev. Mark Nakagawa, West District superintendent, United Methodist Church
Pledge of Allegiance — Wade Ohashi, Diamond Bar High School
National anthem and “God Bless America” — Aimee Machida
Greetings — Col. David Uyematsu, Gulf War veteran
Presentation of wreath — 4th District Gardena VFW Post 1961, Kazuo Masuda VFW Post 3670, Go For Broke National Education Center, Veterans Memorial Court Alliance
Memorial Day message — Wade Y. Ishimoto, distinguished senior fellow, Joint Special Operations University
Gold Star mothers and fathers, spouses and families of deceased veterans — Lynnie Tabata, representative
Americans of Japanese Ancestry World War II Memorial Alliance — Linda Machida Grundy
Japanese American Korean War Veterans — Robert M. Wada, charter president
Japanese American Vietnam Veterans — Dennis Ishiki, Vietnam veteran
Iraq and Afghanistan — Col. Tim Yoshinaga, Gulf War veteran
USS Maine and Grenada — David Miyoshi, VMCA vice president
Veterans of Foreign Wars — 4th District Gardena Post 1961, Steve Moriyama, commander; Kazuo Masuda Post 3670, James Nakamura, commander; Sadao Munemori Post 321, Keith Kawamoto, board member
100th/442nd Veterans Association — Keith Kawamoto, board member
Veterans Memorial Court Alliance — Chris Segawa, board member
Go For Broke National Education Center — Mitch Maki, CEO
Redondo Union High School Marine Corps Jr. ROTC — 1st Sgt. Steve Mick, USMC retired
Japanese American Cultural and Community Center — Patricia Wyatt, president and CEO
Japanese American National Museum — Ann Burroughs, president and CEO
Little Tokyo Service Center — Erick Nakano, executive director
Nisei Week Foundation — Nancy Okubo, president
Stamp Our Story Campaign — Wayne Osako, co-chair, and Audrey Kim, founder
City of Los Angeles — Kevin de Leon, city councilman
Friend of the Japanese American Community — Jan Perry
Japanese American Community — Kelly Sera, Kaitlyn Hara, Claire Imada, Kara Chu, Wade Ohashi, Katie Ikemoto
Benediction — Rev. Shumyo Kojima, head minister, Zenshuji Temple
Videographers — Kristyn Hayashi, Cory Hayashi, Robert Horsting
Co-chairs — David Miyoshi and Ken Hayashi, Veterans Memorial Court Alliance
Video now available. Visit memorialcourtalliance.org.
— Submitted by Ken Hayashi