The most outspoken voice of The Rafu Shimpo has been silenced. I was sad to learn that William “Wimpy” Hiroto passed away on June 23, just eight days after his last weekly “Crossroads to Somewhere” column was published.

One of his sons told me that on that day — Thursday, June 15 — while walking to the dining hall for dinner, Hiroto fell. “He was conscious and alert when I saw him the next day and was intubated Friday early afternoon” since a “neck injury caused pressure on the airway … He had complications due to a stent being inserted to open an artery, his lungs were not 100% due to smoking 50-60 years ago, his kidneys started acting up …

“They could’ve done a few procedures that may have alleviated things but nothing was guaranteed and he would’ve lost his independence and his quality of life would’ve been greatly affected. He told me a few years ago that he didn’t want to be bedridden and/or stuck in a rehab facility for any length of time. This would’ve been the case so we decided to honor his wishes and let him go.”

Hiroto (center) receiving his USC Medallion on March 28.

Wimpy Hiroto was 94 years young.

As I’d written to him in private for over 16 years, his perspective as a Nisei was important, and unlike the late Rafu columnist George “Horse” Yoshinaga (“The Horse’s Mouth”), he wasn’t a hypocrite!

Hiroto often wrote in the passive voice, rendering the subjects of those who did things he didn’t like anonymous. I never asked him about it. I always assumed it was a form of self-protection. Maybe a survival technique he learned dealing with racism throughout his life and spending time in a WWII concentration camp. To truly understand everything he wrote probably required keeping a dictionary handy (a lot of it went over my head, given the limitations of my brain).

But he was very entertaining and — for someone who said he didn’t watch TV except mainly  sports and news — hip on the latest entertainers of the day.

Last September, I asked Hiroto, “Instead of feeling the need to feed the weekly deadline, have you ever thought of writing a book meant to give an overview of your life, your thoughts, etc. that people can refer to over a longer period of time? One they’ll want to read long after you’re gone? Something with a more permanent record of things?”

“Naw,” he responded. “I thot [sic] about it a long while ago but vain tho I may be, writing a tome has never been seriously considered. My boys suggest a compilation of columns but alas, I failed to properly store my old ‘Crossroads’ stuff (’53-’70) and the Rafu morgue is a travesty so there’s really no file of old CR2S.”

Aug. 13, 2016, the first and only time the author and Hiroto actually met.

While catching up on The Rafu between workouts at the gym, I’d keep Wimpy’s columns that I wanted to respond to in private. Being in procrastination mode for a long time now, there were at least three items I was behind on. My main intent was to tell him how pleased I was that USC, his alma mater, had honored him in March. The picture he ran was so gratifying to see: He looked so happy!

Despite being more outspoken than most of his generation, he was still very Nisei-like in his humility, apologizing for continuing to talk in succeeding columns about how fantastic he felt about the honor. “No need to apologize,” I wanted to write, “as it was much deserved.” I was surprised that even when the columnist was invited to the event and he initially turned them down, no one told him, “Uh, well, actually, they want to surprise you with a gold medallion! So you really should attend!”

Hiroto also seemed to be on the verge of becoming a regular public speaker, from which he found a lot of gratification. Imagine kids decades younger who were interested in what you and 120,000 Japanese Americans endured in the camp years! How he made history come alive more than the black-and-white pictures they glanced over in dusty old history books?

It seems cruel that that new avenue to communicate, entertain and enlighten has now been cut short.

Wimpy Hiroto’s last column, dated June 15.

Almost as cruel as his haunting story of that white high school girlfriend who broke up with him because her racist father didn’t approve of their romance.

There’ll be no more inside reports of the services (or lack thereof — working elevators, anyone?) of the former Keiro retirement home, of which he’d been a resident for 12 years. No more fascinating stories about his adventures with “O” (short for obake), the ghost who, off and on for years, tried to get his attention while he lay sleeping at night by knocking on his door (security footage repeatedly found nothing!) or even tapping him on his shoulder! Yiiii!

I’m sure his many fans would appreciate still being able to read some of his past columns online, as they haven’t been posted for years. After his Rossier Book Club of USC talk, Hiroto said he was going to devote many of his future columns to “revive the life of an internee for your elucidation and reading pleasure.” And he’d already started publishing parts of the 101-page dissertation he completed in 1958. Hopefully, his family will find a way to get the rest of it printed in his column, so that it will last beyond his lifetime.

While “O” is apparently nowhere near Heaven and still seeking attention due to unresolved issues, I hope Wimpy Hiroto’s having a blast in the afterlife. He certainly deserves it. Hopefully, his “crossroads” have finally taken him to somewhere more specific and satisfying.


Guy Aoki, who co-wrote the “Into the Next Stage” column from 1992 to 2017, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. Really nice article about dad.
    You know Wimpy, he didn’t like too many people but I knew he liked you.
    Thanks again