After reading about the high school recently dedicated to Hershey Miyamura, I was reminded of my own time with the man in 2008. On a cross country road-trip from L.A. to New York, Rafu Graphic Designer Cari Yasuno and I had an incredible run-in with Miyamura that began along a New Mexico street that bears his name. The following is an excerpt from the journal I kept during that trip.
We were just in town for gas.
Gallup is a quaint little town, with its downtown filled with turquoise boutiques and trade posts, its desert-charged air arousing in visitors the sensation of taking a Wells Fargo buggy back in time.
But we wanted to be in Amarillo by the end of the night and we still had some 400 miles to cover. So we hopped right back onto the I-40 eastbound with our sights set on Albuquerque. And that was when a queer sight caught our eyes.
Just before leaving the city limits, we saw the most peculiarly named street for that part of the country.
“Does that say Miyamura St.?” I said, damning the freeway traffic behind me and slowing down to have a closer look.
Cari didn’t wait for us to get rear-ended and responded quickly: “Pull over.”
About 98 percent of Gallup residents probably fit into two ethnic groups: white or Navajo. So for Cari and me, failing to find out the origin of a Japanese-named throughway in New Mexico would not only make us failures as journalists, but failures as proud Japanese Americans.
Luckily for us, the Gallup Chamber of Commerce is just off Miyamura St. on Route 66, as good a place as any to solve the Miyamura mystery. Inside, we met three very nice, very white docents. We strolled up to them and came right out with it. Why does a predominantly non-Japanese town have a major street bearing such a prominently Japanese name?
The three nice white people looked at each other and smiled.
“Miyamura San is one of our most special residents,” said one.
Miyamura San?! Special resident?!
Cari and I were floored. Apparently, as the three took turns telling us, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura was a veteran of two wars (World War II and the Korean conflict) and one of Gallup’s most decorated citizens. He fought in the distinguished 422nd Infantry Division and won the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1955.
(Interestingly, Hershey and his family were never interned. Gallup was the only American community with a Japanese population without any residents incarcerated.)
It occurred to me at this point that throughout this impromptu history lesson, the three docents were using the present tense. So I interrupted them.
“Wait, is Mr. Miyamura still alive?”
They laughed. Not only was he still alive, he lived less than a mile down the road. And it just so happened that only a few days before, there was a renaming ceremony for one of the local middle schools, where a statue of the eponym was unveiled. And wouldn’t you know it, the statue was a dead ringer for none other than Hershey Miyamura.
The docents phoned him for us but there was no answer and no answering machine. We couldn’t hide our disappointment. Not to be deterred, I waited for the docents to turn their backs and looked up his address in the local Yellow Pages. We thanked the docents – one of whom, I kid you not, bowed to us as we left – and drove out to pay the Miyamuras a visit.
Our goal was to leave a note requesting a phone interview at their convenience. But just in case, I rang the doorbell.
In six seconds, the door opened. Before us was a squinting, energetic Nisei. It was Hershey’s wife, Terry. I told her we were with the Rafu Shimpo. No sooner than saying “fu”, we were inside her house taking seats in cozy chairs in the living room.
I told her how we came to be at her doorstep and after hearing our story she got up and started moving towards the bedroom.
“Well, he’s taking a nap,” she said.
Again, we could barely hide our disappointment.
“Well that’s okay,” Cari started. “Maybe we could exchange phone numbers and he could call us later.”
But she continued moving towards their bedroom.
“But you’ll be gone,” she said, in the most lovely voice I’ve ever heard from a Nisei.
We tried to protest, but she was already in the room, waking her two-war veteran, Congressional Medal of Honor-winning husband from his nap.
Cari and I were mortified. But we were journalists after all, and to be honest, we were really excited to hear from such a fascinating figure.
In less than two minutes, out walked Staff Sgt. Miyamura. His hair was a little disheveled and the top button of his shirt was open. But his confident gait signaled every bit the dapper and intelligent war hero we were told so much about. As we talked, he never once failed to live up to this first impression.
He and his wife were, for lack of a better word, really cute.
Whenever Hershey would talk for over a few minutes, his wife would interrupt him, eliciting an exaggerated sigh from the Medal of Honor winner. Mr. Miyamura would look at me during these moments, shooting a look that seemed to say, “Women! Always talking!”
I also noticed Terry seeking eye contact with Cari whenever Hershey spoke for too long. “Men!” the look seemed to communicate. “Always talking about war.”
All told, we spoke for well over an hour. We got to see Mr. Miyamura’s Medal of Honor, take some pictures and, not wanting to intrude any more on this impossibly generous couple, bowed out before they invited us to spend the night.
Alex Isao Herbach is a freelance writer and sales director for a Southern California toy store. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.