Participating veterans from all wars posed for a group photo after Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670’s Memorial Day service at Westminster Memorial Park.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER — Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670 held its annual Memorial Day service on May 29 at Westminster Memorial Park.

The VFW post is named for Staff Sgt. Kazuo Masuda of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Fountain Valley native who was killed in action in Italy in 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a middle school in Fountain Valley was named in his honor. The service is held near his grave.

Col. David Uyematsu, VFW post adjutant, served as master of ceremonies. “This grave represents the resting places of many departed members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who served in all wars,” he said. “Our presence here is a solemn commemoration of all those men and women, an expression of our tribute to their devotion to duty, to their courage and patriotism, their service on land, on sea, and in the air … so that the flag of our nation still flies over a land of free people.”

The bugler for “Assembly” and later “Taps” was David Sheegog and the Redondo Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC posted and retired the colors and provided the firing squad for the 21-gun salute.

2022 Nisei Week Queen Kristine Yada makes a floral presentation as World War II veteran Yoshio Nakamura looks on.

The recent passing of two post members, Robert M. Wada (1930-2023) and Don Miyada (1925-2023), was noted by Sharon Maeda, Wada’s daughter, who described the two as “dedicated men who served our country with incredible distinction and who impacted the lives of countless people through their tireless efforts to serve our community.”

At the age of 19, Miyada was drafted into the Army, trained at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, and was sent to Europe, where he was assigned to the 100th Battalion.

“His unit was appointed to guard the Franco-Italian border,” said Maeda. “In March of 1945, Don’s unit returned to Italy to help successfully breach the famed Gothic Line.

“Prior to his passing, Don was one of the few remaining active veterans who served in the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He went on to become an active member of the Suburban Optimist Club and VFW Post 3670 … Don’s humble spirit and nature will continue to live on in our lives and in the lives of those who he touched and impacted.

A display honoring Nisei veterans and community leaders Don Miyada and Robert M. Wada.

“Both Don and our dad served as a shining example of what can be achieved through … dedication to their country, resilience and commitment, as well as making an impact on the world that goes beyond the uniform.”

Wada served in the Korean War with Headquarters Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. “He served as president of the Suburban Optimist Club, SEYO and the Japanese American Korean War Veterans,” Maeda said. “He was a former commander for VFW Post 3670 and held countless other leadership positions in a multitude of organizations …

“On Nov. 11, 2022 on Veterans Day, my 17-year-old daughter Marissa and I had the opportunity to watch my dad give what would turn out to be his final speech at his assisted living facility. We, along with the audience members, felt the depth of his emotion as he relived the past and his passion to ensure that all the stories of all veterans never fade and are never forgotten.

“His heartfelt anecdotes and sharing of experiences were a strong reminder that our veterans and men and women serving in the armed forces carry important stories that need to be shared and continued and heard by future generations so that we can always remember their sacrifices and contributions to make our lives better.

Keynote speaker Shane Sato with 2023 Miss OCJA Kaitlyn Chu (left), 2022 Nisei Week Queen Kristine Yada (third from right) and her court.

“And for your friends and family, you shared the unique ability to uplift and inspire those around you with your words, actions, dedication, and support. We will forever honor your memory, the sacrifices you made for our country, and we are immeasurably grateful for your contributions. Your impact will be deeply and profoundly missed, and your memories will be cherished and remembered forever.”

Don Miyada and Robert M. Wada were eulogized by Wada’s daughter, Sharon Maeda.

Rev. Jon Turner of Orange County Buddhist Church gave the invocation as well as the benediction. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Kyle Muramoto of OCBC Troop 578. Kai Stack, a Masuda Middle School student, sang the national anthem along with “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” later in the program.

Turner said of the veterans, “The way they’ve impacted our lives and our country is immeasurable, and it touches all of us in a very intimate and heartfelt way. So I would just like to say thank you to all the veterans and all they’ve done for us. They made this world a safer place in ways we will never fully appreciate or understand, and yet we receive it in deep gratitude.”

Opening remarks were made by Post 3670 Commander James Nakamura, who said, “Celebrating Memorial Day weekend is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and … remind ourselves and others … that freedom does not come free or easy.”

Redondo Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC presented the colors.

The guest speaker was photographer Shane Sato, whose books, “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage” (2016) and “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Legacy” (2019), contain 160 portraits of Nisei World War II veterans. He has also held several gallery exhibitions of the photos.

“Over the past two decades, I’ve had the privilege of photographing Japanese American Nisei veterans, and in the past two years, Korean War, Vietnam and recent conflict veterans,” he said. “… I didn’t want to give a history lesson, so whenever possible, I tried to share the personal stories of the veterans in a way that everyone could appreciate and understand, like a grandfather talking to his grandchild. There are historical battles and timelines, but I want the viewer to see the portraits and then become intrigued with who this person is.”

Sato recalled that when he started photographing veterans in the late 1990s, “Many people told me that I was too late in the game and that too many men had already passed, but I didn’t listen to them … I’ve also been asked, why did this take so long? I can’t really answer that question other than I photograph things that inspire me and the amazing stories of soldiers kept me wanting to learn more and more about them, and that’s what really kept me going.”

Rev. Jon Turner of Orange County Buddhist Church

Sato said that when he was growing up, “I did not hear anything about the war or camp in my family … I grew up in Monterey Park, where there were so many Japanese and other Asian Americans, I never felt any discrimination or that I was not American. In fact, my mother pretty much only cooked American food — hot dogs, spaghetti, tacos, fried chicken, and my favorite, Swanson Chicken Pot Pie and TV dinners …

“In elementary school, I remember arguing with a Caucasian kid about something and somehow it got into the issue of me going back to my country. This kind of thinking must have been taught to him as we were too young to have formed these kinds of opinions on our own. I said to him, ‘This is my country. I was born here. Were you?’ … He said, ‘Of course, but my family, we fought for this country. Yours didn’t.’

“I didn’t know what to say … My family never spoke about being in the war … I was very ignorant about the war and any Japanese Americans fighting for the United States.”

Col. David Uyematsu, VFW post adjutant

Learning the veterans’ stories was educational but time-consuming, he said. “I started to ask more questions and tried to understand the subjects behind the portraits. That was not the easiest task. As I’m sure many of you know, Nisei men are not the most willing to have their picture taken or be the center of attention. So that could have been another reason why my project took so long.”

At meetings of 100th/442nd veterans, Sato would approach someone and was told, “‘Oh, no, no, I’m not important. Talk to that guy over there. He’s important.’ So I would go over there and talk to him and he’d say, ‘Oh, no, no, I’m not important. That guy over there, he’s important. Talk to him.’ So I was going around in a circle the whole day long …

“I struggled many times to bring out the personality, whether it was stoic, humorous, or even grumpy. I hope that you can see this personality come through the portraits. As I started to listen and understand more about the stories. I began to realize that many of these stories were very similar …

Post 3670 Commander James Nakamura

“Most of these Nisei veterans were approaching the twilight of their lives and their attitude toward participating was softening a bit. Maybe it was seeing their grandchildren or the realization of their own mortality …. They realized that they needed their stories to be shared. Anyway, it gradually became easier for me to get subjects.”

During the interviews, “their patriotism and honor never wavered. I never heard a negative word about the situation, but only how they knew how they had the fight to prove that they’re American and hope that their service would make a better life for their family. And that’s what brings us all here for Memorial Day. We want to remember those who have fought and died for this country to help make it a safe place for all of us, our families, our friends, and our loved ones.”

Kai Stack from Masuda Middle School sang the national anthem.

Sato has heard many reasons why Nisei have not shared their stories, “whether it was too hurtful, maybe it was too shameful or that they felt that they were protecting their families from this past … I would like to challenge you to keep sharing your story and talk about it with your family and friends. The coffee table books were meant to open conversations.”

The next stop for the “Go For Broke Spirit” exhibition is the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, where Sato hopes “to share this legacy to an entirely new group of people.”

Rolene Hamamoto introduced the following organizational representatives, who presented floral tributes:

Masuda Family: Marvin Masuda

Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670: Nori Uyematsu

442nd Regimental Combat Team: Yoshio Nakamura

100th Infantry Battalion: Jason Kusagaya

Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee: David Miyoshi

Japanese American Korean War Veterans: Bacon Sakatani

Gulf War: James Styles

Iraq/Afghanistan Wars: Robert Crockett

Gardena VFW Post 1961: Steve Moriyama

Redondo Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC: 1st Sgt. Steve Mick and cadet commander

Veterans Memorial Court Alliance: Ken Hayashi

VFW Post 3670 Youth Group: Gayle Goya

VFW Post 3670 Surviving Spouses: Susan Nishiwaki

Orange County Buddhist Church: JoAnne Tanioka

Wintersburg Presbyterian Church: Toshiko Matsuzawa

Kazuo Masuda Middle School: Principal Jennifer Morgan


OCO Club: Lily Kozai

OC Japanese American Association: Kimiko Fujita

OC Queens Council: 2023 Miss OCJA Kaitlyn Chu

OC Sports Association: Marsha Hamamoto

**The Rafu Shimpo**: J.K. Yamamoto

So-Phis: Elaine Ganiko

Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park: Ray Okazaki

Manzanar National Historic Site: Cory Shiozaki

2022 Nisei Week Queen: Kristine Yada

Stamp Our Story: Wayne Osako

Zentoku Foundation: Stacey Yoshinaga

Westminster Memorial Park: Ann Stemmer

Family of Robert M. Wada: Sharon Maeda

A display tells Kazuo Masuda’s story.

Before and after the program, attendees viewed displays about deceased veterans put together by their families.

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

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