A Special Day in Arroyo Grande

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Haruo Hayashi and his grandson Kobe at their graduation ceremony. (Photos by Leslie Hayashi)

ARROYO GRANDE — In recent years, several Nisei who missed their high school or college graduations because of the WWII incarceration have belatedly received their diplomas in special ceremonies throughout California. One such story this year stands out because a grandfather and grandson were able to graduate together.

On June 6, Kobe Hayashi graduated from Arroyo Grande High School with his 93-year-old grandfather, Haruo Hayashi, who was a sophomore when he and his family were sent to an assembly center in Tulare and then the Gila River camp in Arizona. He would have been part of the Class of 1944.

Wearing a blue cap and gown, the elder Hayashi smiled when he received his diploma from Principal Dan Neff as the audience cheered.

“It’s pretty awesome. He has been my biggest fan growing up, so it is really special to share this moment with him,” Kobe, who plans to attend Cal Poly in the fall, told KSBY.

Haruo Hayashi’s honorary diploma.

Kobe, son of Haruo’s son Alan, is one of 468 graduating seniors and the youngest of Haruo’s seven grandchildren, all of whom are Arroyo Grande High alumni. His middle name is Yeiju in honor of Haruo’s father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Japan more than a century ago.

Haruo had said that he wanted to live long enough to see Kobe graduate.

The family is known for running the Hayashi Vegetable Stand in Oceano. Unlike many Japanese Americans who lost everything during the war, they were able to keep their farm, which neighbors watched over during their absence.

“It’s pretty rewarding. He’s had some obstacles in his life,” Alan Hayashi, one of five sons of Haruo and his late wife, Rose, told KEYT. “To see this recognition is real nice.”

Following is the introduction given by Arroyo Grande Administrative Secretary Rocio Palacios-DeVries:

“I now have the honor of announcing a very special grad. This young man was born to immigrant parents in Arroyo Grande in 1926 … At the time of Pearl Harbor, he was a sophomore at the high school, [where]25 of the 58 members of that year’s senior class were Japanese Americans.

“This special grad did not get the chance to graduate as an Eagle. In 1942. the Hayashis would be among those sent to Gila River camp in the Arizona desert, where the temperature was at or above 109 degrees for their first month of their internment. When he was old enough, he joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised exclusively of Japanese American soldiers who became the the most decorated unit in the history of the United States military …

“He returned to Arroyo Grande, where the family farm had been protected by friends, resumed farming, and married Rose. Their marriage would last 62 years and would produce five sons. This meant that the Hayashis’ family refrigerator in their little kitchen was perpetually opened to two generations of hungry teenage boys.

“This special grad’s lifelong commitment to young people included his tenure on the Lucia Mar School Board and his dedication to youth sports. He taught his children the values of generosity, compassion, and service to others.

“Only about half of Arroyo Grande’s Japanese American citizens came back home by the end of the war. This special grad came home. Arroyo Grande was, is and always will be his home. He was, is and always will be an Arroyo Grande Eagle.

“Today Arroyo Grande High School would like to honor one of its own, a man of unwavering patriotism, a love for his community, a true Eagle and role model for future generations. It is my privilege to announce Haruo Hayashi, Class of 1944.”

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