HORSE’S MOUTH: Never Too Old to Learn


(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on June 4, 2011.)

It’s often said, “One is never too old to learn.”

That’s the thought that came to mind over the past few days because of a couple of incidents.

Last week I wrote about tripping and falling in front of a convenience store. I bruised my elbow and knee but otherwise came out without any further damage.

Then, a few days later, I was in our backyard when I saw some trash that the wind blew in from the neighbor’s yard. When I stooped over to pick it up, I lost my balance and fell again.

No major damage here, either.

But it got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that while my mind still thinks “young,” my body is, well, over 85 years old.

So, I decided I’d better begin thinking like a senior citizen when I do things.

I say this because I often hear of some of my friends who have taken falls and injured themselves, some with broken bones and worse.

I can now understand how these things can happen.

We just can’t go hip-hopping around, although our minds still tell us we can.

So now, when I walk up or down stairs, I take each step one at a time, instead of trying to bounce up like I used to, say, 20 years ago.

And, when I walk in areas I am not familiar with, I look down to see if there is a rise in height from one step to the next.

Now I understand why my Issei parents used to walk so slowly and carefully.

Heck, I’m now older than my Issei parents were.

Which of these two categories do you fit into?

Somebody said there are two kinds of people in the world.

There are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord.”

And there are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good Lord! It’s morning!”

I was going to use the following in my earlier column because it was Memorial Day, a day dedicated to those who served in the military.

Well, it’s never too late.

Perhaps some of you may have read it before because it’s been printed in the past, but for those who may not have heard it, it will be an inspiration to Japanese Americans.

It’s a bit long, but hey, since it’s a holiday week, it will give me a chance to slack off a bit in filling the column.

It’s a speech given by Eric Saul, an Army historian from Monterey, at a gathering of veterans. He has great knowledge and insight on the accomplishments of the Nisei.

This is his speech:

“So why was it you Nisei, second generation, born in America, were willing to volunteer for the Army from plantations of Hawaii, often when you were considered second-class citizens, or from concentration camps in America?

“Your parents couldn’t become citizens or own land, so land was put in your name. Before the war, you wanted to become doctors, lawyers and professionals, but you couldn’t because no one would hire you.

“So you worked on your family farm, flower orchards and shops. You were segregated in the Little Tokyos and Japantowns.

“You couldn’t go where you wanted, be where you wanted, be whom you wanted. Furthermore, your president, on Feb. 19, 1942, signed an executive order that said you weren’t Americans anymore, you were ‘non-aliens.’

“So why did you join the Army? Why did you become soldiers and ironically become, of all things, the most decorated Army unit that this country has ever produced?

“There were words like giri and on, which your parents taught you. Which mean ‘duty’ and ‘honor,’ and ‘responsibility.’

“You had to pay back your debt to your country.

Oyakoko: Love for family.

“Your parents couldn’t become citizens but you loved your families and you had to prove your loyalty at any cost. You used your bodies as hostages for your families to prove your love for democracy and justice when you volunteered from those camps.

Kodomo no tame ni: For the sake of the children.

“Most of you didn’t have children at the time but you knew you wanted to have families. And you knew that you didn’t want your children to suffer as you did. You wanted your children to be able to be doctors, lawyers and professionals.

“If you went into the military, did your job, perhaps things would change. You knew it and you fought for it.

“You even came up with your own regimental motto that’s on this honored regiment flag in front of me. It was ‘Go For Broke.’

“You set the tone for your own regiment and lived up to its motto. You made democracy work.

“Because of your wartime record, your children can now be what they want in a country that you wanted for them.

Enryo: Humility.

“There’s an old Japanese proverb that says, ‘If you do something real good and you don’t talk about it, it must be really, really good.’

“You never talked about your wartime record. You didn’t tell your children, you didn’t tell your wives and you didn’t even tell the country.

Gaman: Internal fortitude, keep your troubles to yourself. Don’t show how you’re hurting.

Shikata ga nai: Sometimes things can’t be helped.

“But other times you have to go for broke and you can change things.

Haji: Don’t bring shame on your family. When you go off to war, fight for your country, return if you can, but die if you must.

Shinbo shite seiko suru: Strength and success will grow out of adversity.

“When I was curator of the Presidio Museum, I wanted to know why you joined the Army. Why did you join from a concentration camp?

“A veteran from Cannon Company named Wally told me a story.

“His family was sent from Los Angeles to the Santa Anita racetrack, which was an assembly center for Japanese Americans.

“There, they were put in a horse stall.

“Before the war, they had a flower shop, they had their own home in Los Angeles and they were a middle-class family.

“Now they were living for weeks in a horse staff that hadn’t been cleaned when they moved in and it stunk of horse manure.

“Wally’s father said to him: ‘Remember that a lot of good things grow in horse manure.’

“It did.

“I remember hearing a story from Chaplin Higuchi, the chaplain of the 442nd, who was from Hawaii.

“I asked him, ‘How could the Nisei have joined the Army under those circumstances? How could they have done what they did?’

“Chaplain Higuchi said he himself couldn’t understand because he was from Hawaii and hadn’t suffered the same discrimination.

“But his job as chaplain was to go through the pockets of the Nisei who had been killed in action.

“He remembered going through the pockets of one mainland Nisei.

“In his wallet was a news clipping that told him how the family farm had been burned down by racists near Auburn, California. Yet, this Nisei still volunteered for the service.

“Chaplain Higuchi said that there were no medal high enough in this country to give to this Nisei who had been killed and was lying in front of him.

“Chaplain Higuchi had to write a letter home to his parents.

“You Nisei fought for this country, your country.

“It has taken 56 years to get to this point.

“But, you made democracy stand for what it really means.

“When you came home from he war, President Truman had a special White House ceremony for you. It was the only time that a president of the United States had a ceremony at the White House for a unit as small as a battalion.

“It was raining that morning in Washington and Truman’s aide said, ‘Let’s cancel the ceremony.’

“Truman told his aide, ‘After what those boys have been through, I can stand a little rain.’

“He said to the Nisei, bearing their regimental standard with the motto, ‘Go For Broke,’ ‘I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to tell you what you have done for this country. You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice and you won. You made the Constitution stand for what it means: the welfare of all the people, all the time.’

“Lastly, he advised the Nisei to keep up the fight.

“So in the 1980s you fought for redress. One of the reasons that the redress was passed overwhelmingly in Congress was the overwhelming record of the 100th/442nd and the MIS.

“The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided an apology for your parents and for your suffering. So on he battlefields of France, Italy and Germany, ‘Go For Broke’ stood for the welfare of all the people, all of the time. You never lost faith in your country and we are here today to celebrate that faith. The result of that faith is that your children can be anything that they want: professionals, doctors and lawyers.

“The price that you paid for democracy was the highest combat casualty rate of any regiment that served in the United States Army.”

Well, the foregoing was a bit lengthy. I hope those who never read it before can clip it out and save it for their records. It will surely inflate the pride of all Japanese Americans in the generations to come.

Thanks to the reader for sending it to me.

I don’t remember if I ran the photo I am including with this article but I’ll print it because it was taken when I was on my final furlough from the Army before shipping overseas.

It was taken at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in front of our “residence” at Block 24, Barrack 10, Unit A.

That’s my older sister and my mother.

That’s the last time I saw my mother because she passed away while I was overseas.

My sister lives in Northern California. We’re the last of the Yoshinaga clan, which at one time consisted of two brothers and six sisters, all of whom lived through the relocation camp experience.

My brother was in Heart Mountain, but my other sisters were in Tule Lake.

Ah, memories.

Today’s closer might not be a typical laugher but I’m sure most of you will get a giggle out of it. It was contributed by a reader.

The title is  “Phenomenal Two-Letter Word.” It’s one word in the English language that can be a noun, verb, adjective,  adverb and preposition.

This two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is UP.

It’s easy to understand UP meaning towards the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers, and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.

At other times, this little word has real special meaning: People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be petty mixed UP about UP.

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost a quarter page and can add UP to about 30 definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of our time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with 100 or more.

When it threatens rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it soaks UP the earth. When it does not rain for a while, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP for now. My time is UP.

Oh, one more thing. What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?



Did that crack you UP?

Now, I’ll shut UP.

(Maggie’s comment: Mr. Y., please forgive me, but the above UP laugher was printed twice before.  Since it was the only laugher, I typed it. May I be bold enough to say, you should keep UP your laugher file, heh, heh).

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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