By REV. DR. MUTSUMI WONDRA, Orange County Buddhist Church and JON KAWAMOTO, Wheel of Dharma Editor
Bill Sakahara lived a life of service, as BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada so aptly put it.
He served his country in the U.S. Air Force, he served his family, and he served both the Las Vegas Buddhist Sangha, where he was the first president, and the Orange County Buddhist Church, where he was the treasurer of the anniversary project for the new social hall.
Sadly, Sakahara, who was 80, passed away in Tokyo on May 18. He had traveled to Japan with his wife Janet and OCBC Sangha friends to attend the 850th/800th Joint Celebration Service on May 10, which marked the anniversaries of Shinran Shonin’s birth and the establishment of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. The special service was held at the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto.
“Bill gave of himself and his time for others, more than for himself,” Rev. Harada said at Sakahara’s July 1 funeral at OCBC. “In Buddhism, we call that a life of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is someone who sacrifices their own enlightenment so that all others can get enlightened first.
“Bill, instead of living for himself, lived in service of others, whether it was in the Air Force, with his family, or with his Sangha here at OCBC. In this day and age of the ‘me, me, me mentality,’ it is rare to be around those who live for others.”
William Takashi Sakahara was born on Sept. 12, 1942, in Fresno to Takeo and Tsuyako Sakahara. He spent the first four years of his life incarcerated with his family — first at Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, then at the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California.
After the family was released from camp in March 1946, they returned to Central California to restart their lives before moving to San Jose and Gilroy.
Sakahara entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 1964, and later earned two master’s degrees, one in political science and a second in information systems.
His commanding officer’s wife arranged a blind date with Janet Okamura, an undergrad from nearby Colorado College. After they both graduated, the couple got married in 1965, embarking on a marriage that would last for 57 years and grow to include three daughters.
Sakahara — called “Saki” in the Air Force — had a 20-year military career and was stationed around the world. He was an F-4 fighter pilot, trainer in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Bitburg, Germany, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross — the highest flight award in the U.S. military — given for “heroism or extraordinary achievement,” for flying combat missions in Vietnam.
He served the Las Vegas Buddhist Sangha when he and his wife Janet were stationed there, and he served OCBC in a variety of ways. He was OCBC’s Eitaikyo Fund treasurer and was in charge of festival raffle prizes.
Sakahara was treasurer for OCBC’s new social hall project, in which one of the fundraisers was for Sangha members to collect their spare change in piggy banks. That fundraiser alone raised about $30,000 in about five years. He and Janet counted out all that spare change from the piggy bank fundraisers.
He told everyone during the Japan trip that he was grateful for the opportunity to attend the special service in Kyoto. He purchased an onenju at the Nishi Hongwanji, and at his cremation service, Janet placed the new onenju in his urn.
Sakahara is survived by his wife, Janet; three daughters and sons-in-law, Kristin and Kendall Cummings, Robin Sakahara and Daniel Allen, and Karin and Kenn Kashima; five grandchildren, Kaitlin Cummings, Sumiye and Shiogo Allen, and Kayla and Kenna Kashima; a great-grandson, Takashi King; and two brothers and a sister-in-law, Dale Sakahara and Gene and Kathryn Sakahara.