The following are recollections from a trip taken in August by reader Robert Wada of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans to Washington, D.C. After not sleeping on the long flight, he and his son, Garry, were picked up by their friend, Air Force Gen. Steve Kwast.
Heads sure turned at the airport when people saw a general welcome and hug a couple of “nobodys.”
Friday: Early 8:30 a.m. check-in at the hotel, through the smooth talk of the general. I could not get an early check-in by calling days before.
Next, he took us on a personal tour of the Pentagon. Met many generals and admirals up to four stars, who were all very cordial and courteous to me and thanked me for my service. Choked me up to say the least … Those were moments that cannot be described in words.
The Pentagon is a city in itself. I think Steve said there were 71 restaurants in all. There were stores in a big area like a mall, every type of business, even an optometrist. There are 17.5 miles of hallways in the building. People live there for the day since security is too tight to be going in and out. Had lunch in the executive dining room with the same food and dinnerware as the White House.
Left the Pentagon and went to the Marines Iwo Jima Memorial. I told Gen. Kwast I donated to it when they were going to build it, in memory of my best friend, Bob Madrid, who was killed in Korea. He told some tourists I helped build the memorial in a way that it sounded like I donated thousands.
Garry was laughing when I told Gen. Kwast it was only $5. So he had me take a picture by one of letters and said I must have paid for that one letter on the memorial.
Next, I finally got to see the Korean War Memorial. My lifelong ambition fulfilled.
Then back to the hotel to freshen up and change to a suit, to go to Marine Corps Gen. James Amos’ private reception honoring past Secretary of State (and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces) Colin Powell. We got right in, so we were able to see the Gen. Amos and Colin Powell early before they got tied up with the crowd.
Gen. Kwast, like a broken record, saying the same thing he was telling all the officers, told Powell about my being in an internment camp during World War Il, but still joining the Marines and going to Korea during the war.
Colin Powell squeezed my hand harder and put his second hand on the handshake. A two-handed handshake is a gesture I will never forget and it came with the words “Thank you for serving our country.”
I have to confess, it was probably not a good sight to see an 81-year-old “tough Marine” with tears down his cheek while talking to Colin Powell.
Close to 11 p.m., it was back to the Marines Memorial for night photos of the Korean War statue memorial with low lighting. A very emotional time for me. A truly long day.
The next day, Gen. Kwast took us on a vehicle tour of the city and gave us a run-down on all the government buildings. We watched the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery and then took a cab for the private tour of the White House.
No pictures were allowed inside, so we were only able to get pictures outside. We did get to see the different rooms, including the president’s Oval Office. An immaculate room. At least one good thing I can say for Obama, he cleans his own room and keeps it really organized … he was vacuuming when we went by.
It was truly a trip that can never be duplicated, giving memories never to be forgotten.