This is a piece I wrote for Father's Day a few years back. I thought I would recycle it here in memory of my father and father-in-law, both Veterans of World War II.
On a spring day in 1970, a Japanese-American girl sends a frisbee whirling across the university quad...
Shinsaku Sawada came to America in 1918 and settled in Seattle with his wife and three children. In 1928 he lost his wife to tuberculosis. His eldest son George, writing to his father in 1943:
"…you told us she’d gone away. That we mustn’t cry. You smiled at us, but not from the heart. How sad you looked when you thought we were safely tucked in bed, and your pretenses dropped like a heavy load."
Shinsaku built his tailoring business and saved for his children’s education. Again from his son’s letter:
"Then came the depression and overnight we were poor. Your business and the college fund were lost. I wanted to leave school and go to work...
“No,” you said with quiet doggedness. “You shall continue your education.”
George had graduated from the University of Washington and his younger brother Fred was a private in the U.S. Army, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
"We were sent to relocation centers. I could not understand why you attempted to restore my faith in the government which had denied you the right of citizenship... I did not realize the love you bore for this country, made more dear because here it was that mother had been laid to rest: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
"Wisely you said, “This is your sacrifice, accept it and you will no longer be bitter.”
On the 5th of July, 1943 Sergeant George Katsuya Sawada was killed by a sniper while serving as a Medic in the 442 Regiment in Italy.
Fred Sawada idolized his older brother. George was studious while Fred was hardheaded, impetuous and fearless. Wounded on five separate occasions, the following is from his citation for the Silver Star:
"While moving through a sparse vineyard Sawada motioned his comrades to stop. As the enemy prepared to take up positions, Sawada opened fire… the enemy patrol of seven men was killed or wounded."
Fred made it home and married his high school girlfriend Susanne Matsumura. They raised two children, Suzanne, who became a corporate attorney, and Stephen, a noted cardiologist.
Stephen Joy and Lillian Mackey were married in 1910. They lived on a small farm in upstate New York. By the time their third child, Kenneth, was born, they knew that rocky farm would condemn them to a life of poverty. They gambled and bought a one hundred fifty acre farm – on contract.
Ken’s first memory is his bedroom filling up with smoke on a chilly October night. The farmhouse was on fire. Neighbors rushed to help. Big Clifford Hunt jumped down from the burning roof, pumped his heart out when it looked to all like it was hopeless. They saved the farm and the world Ken came to know was much different than it might have been.
Ken finished high school, with no plans for college until a teacher named Leonard Palmer showed him how he could work his way through Cornell. He was the first member of his family to get a degree. While waiting on tables he met a teaching student named Jean Burr and fell in love.
During the war, Ken became a pilot and his job was to fly home the wounded. In August 1944, he took off from the island of Kawajalien headed for California with forty-four wounded servicemen.
At one thousand feet the plane rolled sharply to the left. Joy tried to right the plane, but the bulky C-54 continued its sickening roll, spiraling towards the ocean. From out of nowhere, flight engineer Harry Hilinski, raced to the flight deck and opened the hydraulic valve. The plane leveled off, and Joy, his crew and the forty-four soldiers were saved.
He returned home, married Jean Burr, and together they raised four children.
One of them was me.
On a spring day in 1970, a Japanese-American girl sends a frisbee whirling across the university quad, and as she lets it fly, Suzanne Sawada yells to me, “Len! Catch it,” which I do, amazed that she knows my name. We were married three years later and last December our three children took us out to dinner to celebrate our 38th anniversary. (now 47th)
Shinsaku Sawada, a sophisticated, educated man, traveled halfway around the world to build a home for his family. Fred Sawada, inspired by his father’s grace and his brother’s sacrifice, fought bravely for his comrades and his country and returned home to become a devout Christian and a devoted husband and father.
Stephen Joy had an eighth grade education and never traveled more than fifty miles from his farm, but gambled everything he had to give his family a better opportunity. Ken Joy took that opportunity and flew all around the world. A leader in his community and his company, he was always there when his family needed him.
What I have learned from these fathers is that what endures is not our possessions our or careers or even our reputations, because in time those will all fade away. How we live our life, the good things we do – the acts of kindness and the sacrifices, large and small – for our family, our friends and even for complete strangers, those things will live on in ways we cannot imagine.
June 7, 2012