CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: World War II Hero’s Belated Fete

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By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto

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Once in awhile, not nearly often enough, CR2S manages to rise above the mundane and write a column with pardonable pride:  The stories of PFC Joe Shiomichi and his “lost” daughter come to mind; the public eulogy for son Eric.  Belonging in this category would be last year’s three-part series dedicated to the story of reluctant Nisei hero Tadashi Nagaki.

If your memory requires refreshing, Nagaki was the intriguing tale of the 442nd RCT- wannabe who wound up serving half way around the world in the China/Burma/India (CBI) theatre with the OSS during World War II.  What made the experience uniquely poignant was the unexpected aftermath.

Nagaki’s final wartime effort in 1945 was to liberate civilians imprisoned in China’s Weihsien concentration camp. Among the awed prisoners witnessing the seven parachutes from heaven was a 12-year-old girl who hadn’t seen her missionary parents in more than five years of captivity.  Fifty-two years later Mary Previte, by then a New Jersey assemblywoman, decided she had to track down the heroes. No matter how impossible the task, she felt the need to find and thank her saviors.

Last year I had the pleasure of reliving the search with Previte and the ultimate reunion of the eastern legislator with a Nebraska farmer.

On the evening of Jan. 25, I received this (edited) e-mail from Mary T. Previte:
“Your wonderful, three-part series about Tad Nagaki played a very happy part of an astonishing community celebration of [his]90th birthday on Saturday in Alliance, Nebraska. I flew out to take part.

First meeting of Mary Previte and Tad Nagaki.

“Tad’s two grandsons and granddaughters-in-law orchestrated one of the most moving celebrations I’ve ever been a part of—inviting the community for an open house at the Alliance Country Club . . . and then hosting a private dinner in the evening . . .

“On three walls of this room [there were]posted huge enlargements of your stories and other newspaper articles about [him]along with photographs and Letters to the Editor from former Weihsien internees that had flooded in last week to the local weekly newspaper. These letters came from New Zealand, Belgium, England, Canada and USA.

“I watched in awe as some 200 people flooded in throughout the afternoon—some in cowboy boots and hats, some in sneakers—all of them full of stories about this modest farmer and his family and what he has meant to them and to this farming and ranching community.  Most stayed for hours to chat and celebrate. They inched along the walls, reading the . . . stories and letters.  [They] were especially fascinated with an enlarged photo of a baby bonnet now on display in Smithsonian’s Museum of American History with the autographs of Tad and other liberators on the brim.  (It is] a part of the Weihsien display housed in The Price of Freedom exhibit. About 60 family members and close friends from as young as a 3-year-old great granddaughter to 90-year-old Tad took part in the dinner. . . Following the dinner [I was] asked to tell the story of the liberation of Weihsien and Tad’s part in that liberation day—recording the whole proceeding—including [his]reluctantly cutting his birthday cake.  (No, there were NOT 90 candles.)

“Believe me, this family and community celebration of this modest farmer warmed every corner of my soul about the well-being of America.

“As you know, Tad is very shy about being the focus of any public display, so I was surprised beyond belief when he consented to—or at least didn’t ban—this celebration.  If ever I saw one, this was a love fest that included townsfolk like the owners of the Alliance tractor store and the bean company where Tad hangs out in the winter, the head of the local veterans’ museum and owner of the local grocery store.

“Thank you once more for your own very significant part in honoring this hero.  I will remember [that]day for years to come.”

Mary Previte
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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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