OBITUARY: Don Seki, Nisei Vet Featured in ‘The Go For Broke Spirit’

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Don Seki, who lost his left arm to machine-gun fire during WWII, appears on the cover of Shane Sato’s “The Go For Broke Spirit.” (Courtesy Shane Sato)

Rafu Staff Report

Noboru “Don” Seki, a Honolulu-born Nisei who served in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, has died. He was 96.

He was a resident of the Veterans Home of California in Los Angeles. According to his daughter Tracey Seki Matsuyama, he died in his sleep on July 28.

Seki was the youngest son of farmers in Hawaii’s Manoa Valley. In October 1941, his parents decided to move to Japan for retirement, but he refused to leave the United States.

Seki joined the Army after witnessing the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was determined to fight to defend the U.S., “regardless of if it is against your own race.” He attended basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.

A member of the 442nd’s L Company, Seki fought in the Allied campaigns to liberate Italy and France from the Nazis. He was seriously wounded by machine-gun fire and lost his left arm after the 442nd’s rescue of the “Lost Battalion” in late 1944 in France’s Vosges Mountains. He spent the next two years rehabilitating and getting prosthesis training.

An oral history with Seki can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/y3mskgcb.

Don Seki joins fellow veterans at a gathering for the Montebello Rotary Club at the Quiet Cannon in June 2009. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Among Seki’s military decorations were the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the French National Legion of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

After the war, Seki settled in Southern California, where he worked 37 years at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard as a comptroller. He enjoyed retired life in West Los Angeles.

Seki made a cameo appearance in the 2019 indie movie “American.” The iconic red, white and blue garrison cap worn by actor George Takei in his role as a 442nd vet belonged to Seki.

Seki appears on the cover of “The Go For Broke Spirit,” which features portraits of Nisei veterans, and in exhibits of the photographs.

He is survived by his wife, Sumiko Seo Seki; children, Lynnette Takahashi, Lindsey Seki and Tracey Seki Matsuyama; and two grandchildren, Tyler Takahashi and Evan Seki Matsuyama.

Don Seki with wife Sumi and daughter Tracey Seki Matsuyama at the opening of a Vietnam Memorial Wall replica in Gardena in 2016. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Following are remembrances from some of those who worked with him.

Shane Sato, photographer, “The Go For Broke Spirit”: “It is with a heavy heart that [I announce that] another one of our fine veterans has passed. It was an honor to know Don Seki, 100th Battalion, for so many years. He and his daughter Tracey would always be there for all of the 100/442nd events, and wherever we would have a local book event, he would always come with a smile.

“He had his patented ‘story’ he would share with all the attendees and the ‘fishing with grenades’ story always got a long laugh. Don was one of the very first portraits I took for my series, and when I saw the proof sheet over a decade ago I thought how this image perfectly portrayed the sacrifices the Nisei made for America. This portrait ultimately became the cover of the first book, and Don was proud to be the ‘cover boy.’

“The Go For Broke Spirit salutes your wonderful life, Don …..Aloha ‘Oe.”

Go For Broke National Education Center: “When he told his veteran stories, we listened – our hearts full of pride.

“When he shared his fishing exploits, we laughed – our hearts full of joy.

“When he spoke of a nation with no racism, we took notes – our hearts full of inspiration.

“Now, as he leaves us, we mourn – our hearts full of gratitude.

Mahalo, Noboru ‘Don’ Seki. Okage sama de.”

Don Seki and Lynette Seki Takahashi at a 2015 ceremony in Hawaii where Nisei veterans received the Legion of Honor from France.

Stacey Hayashi, cartoonist and filmmaker (“Go For Broke: An Origin Story”): “Saddened to hear Don Seki passed away. He was so funny and warm and always had a twinkle in his eye. So glad he was able to join us at the ‘Go For Broke’ movie red carpet last year. My favorite memory of Don: that time he shared his recipe for pineapple swipe with me, wearing his awesome trucker hat that said ‘makule’ (Hawaiian for ‘old’). A hui hou Don… until we meet again.”

Richard Watanabe, volunteer at Japanese American National Museum and professor at Departments of Preventive Medicine and Physiology & Biophysics, Keck School of Medicine, USC: “Don volunteered for the Army and served in L Co., 442nd RCT in WWII. He lost his left arm to German machine-gun fire during the rescue of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges mountains in France. Don used to recall that one of his first thoughts after awakening in the field hospital after losing his arm was ‘How am I going to fish now?’ RIP Cpl. Seki…. many thanks for your dedicated service to our country, but also for sharing your stories for future generations.”

Burt Takeuchi, filmmaker (“Valor with Honor”): “Met Don several times in the past at 442nd reunions and in L.A. (where he was awarded the Croix de Guerre). He was always giving me interesting stories how he luckily survived WWII. He described the loss of his arm in France to his grandchildren. ‘How did you lose your arm, Grandpa?’ asked his grandkids. Don: ‘A dog stole it…’ (joking). The grandkids wanted to go to France to find Grandpa’s arm.

“He was a very kind and funny man. He always waved at me to say hello and talk story.”

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