By JON KAJI
Editor’s note: Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura of Gallup, N.M., a Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, passed away on Nov. 29 at the age of 97.
My memories of Hershey started the day we got off the Santa Fe “Super Chief” train in Gallup, New Mexico, after an overnight train ride from Los Angeles Union Station.
If was another family summer vacation and we joined our family friends, the Yasuo Yoshida family, in visiting their cousins for a week.
I remember Hershey meeting us at the train station in his pickup truck. As we drove to his Esso Gas station before checking into our motel, I remember seeing a long row of motels along Route 66, each with their fluorescent neon 1950s signage, each with a swimming pool in the center of the motor court.
He was wearing his mechanic’s overalls, with a car up on the hydraulic lifts and others waiting their turn. Cars were filling up on gas as the staff checked the air pressure, cleaned the windshields and checked the oil (a real full-service gas station).
Hershey took time off to take us kids out to a local lake for trout fishing. It was the first time I caught a trout on corn, which I thought was a crazy New Mexico bait. What was even more fun was shooting guns for the first time, lining up old cans and bottles, then having Uncle Hershey show us kids how to shoot a .22 pistol and rifle. “Wow! This is better than Disneyland!”
My father, Bruce, said, “Well, if you’re going to learn how to shoot, you’re learning from the best.”
I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that comment. I just figured that everyone in New Mexico was a cowboy, had a gunrack in the pickup and knew their way around guns.
It wasn’t until some years later that I first learned about Hershey’s exploits during the Korean War, his time as a POW, and the significance of the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was the Vietnam War era, and the general sentiment towards our armed forces veered towards the negative. No one ever talked about the Korean War, let alone the World War II concentration camps.
But for me, an 11-year-old kid from Gardena, Uncle Hershey was a real cowboy hero.
He still is. Rest in peace, Uncle Hershey.
Jon Kaji is president of Kaji & Associates and a member of the Torrance City Council.