By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
As people once again gathered at the JACCC Plaza on Saturday to honor the men who died serving in the armed forces, Hubert Yoshida, a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, had an urgent message.
Yoshida emphasized: “Don’t let these men be statistics or just a name on a wall. Find their pictures and learn their stories. They will live as long as someone remembers them.”
The Memorial Day ceremony is held annually at the Japanese American Veterans War Memorial Court and honors Japanese Americans who died in combat from the Spanish American War up until recent conflicts.
“This is truly a Little Tokyo event,” emcee Lee Higa said as he welcomed the gathering of more than 150, including Consul General Kenko Sone, veterans and family members of fallen soldiers.
Brian Kida, an Eagle Scout with Koyasan Troop 379, led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Helen Ota of Grateful Crane Ensemble sang the national anthem. Rev. Mark Nakagawa offered the invocation. Rev. Nobuko Miyoshi performed the benediction.
A wreath was placed at the memorial by leaders of the sponsoring organizations, Veterans Memorial Court Alliance, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo Service Center, and Keiro.
Yoshida was inspired to serve in the Marines after President John F. Kennedy visited the physics lab where he was working at UC Berkeley. Initially rejected for Officer Candidate School, Yoshida enlisted and was sent to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, where he met his wife, Laura. Yoshida reapplied for OCS and was accepted, becoming a Marines Corps lieutenant.
During the Vietnam War, Yoshida served as a platoon commander and fought in Operation Utah in March 1966. A resident of Morgan Hill, Yoshida retired in 2020 as chief technology officer at Hitachi Data Systems. He said that a website, the Wall of Faces (www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces), gives life to the soldiers who perished in Vietnam and he offered a few poignant examples from his research.
The Veterans Memorial Court Alliance announced plans to work on a similar website in conjunction with Yoshida.
“With this Vietnam website we are able to learn their stories and understand who they were and what they were like and perhaps why they went into this conflict,” Yoshida said.
He shared the story of Glenn Lee Hata, an Army first lieutenant, who died on April 2, 1971 in Quang Ngai, Vietnam. Hata was a Sunday school teacher at Gardena Valley Baptist Church.
“I think we need Sunday school teachers to train these officers. When you’re a young man and you have this terrible assault weapon and you’re angry or fearful, you can do terrible things with this assault weapon and you read it in the news,” said Yoshida. “But somehow we need to train these men to use these weapons in a good way.”
John Nishimura was wounded on Dec. 10, 1967 in Quang Tri and left a quadriplegic. He returned to San Francisco but perished from his wounds several months later. Nishimura was initially ineligible to be included on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Suzy Nishimura, now 92, led efforts to change the rules for eligibility and his name now appears on the wall.
“It wasn’t just his name, there were 10 other names added to the wall. And those 10 other names were added because of Suzy Nishimura,” Yoshida said.
Sally Hamamoto offered a floral tribute on behalf of Gold Star Medal of Honor families. Her brother, Kiyoshi Muranaga, died on June 26, 1944 in frontline fighting in Italy.
As Beverly Ito of Keiro, Mitch Maki of Go For Broke and Patricia Wyatt of JACCC read the names of organizations, people took flowers to place at the memorial and share a moment of reflection.
“Taps” and rifle volleys were offered by the Redondo Union High School ROTC.
Among the most tragic stories are the soldiers who never returned home. Yoshida shared the story of Staff Sgt. Susumu Masuda, who went missing and was assumed captured in May 1969. He was declared dead in 1976.
Susan Sasaki, a member of the JACCC board, said the ceremony was a reminder of the importance of service and honoring traditions. Her father was proud of the fact that all five brothers in the family served in the military. His brother, Pfc. Andrew Sase, was a member of the 442nd RCT and declared missing in action in 1945. The family received a letter from President Harry Truman saying that he had died on Feb. 24, 1946, with no other information provided. His mother received a letter from the Veterans’ Administration that she would receive a monthly benefit of $47.60 for the rest of her life.
“My father was haunted by the fact that he really did not know what happened to him. But the other thing was he always told my grandmother that he would always take care of her; in a way he did because she received the benefit,” Sasaki said.
“It reminds me of why I help at the JACCC and why carrying on tradition is important and being proud to be Japanese American.”
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo