On this Memorial Day, we remember the sacrifice of George Sawada. Born in Hilo Hawaii and raised in Seattle WA, he served as a medic in the 100th/442nd RCT. He wrote the following letter below to his father, who was incarcerated in Minidoka concentration camp, before going overseas to Europe. George was killed in action on July 5, 1944 near Livorno, Italy.
I hope you don’t mind my calling you that. I haven’t called you Dad before, but tonight for some reason or the other, I find Father such a cold, formal word, especially in Japanese, and Dad conveys just the meaning I want. It is at once an address of respect, but it expresses also the closeness of our relation and the deep mutual love and understanding which must exist between the two before a Japanese son can call his father Dad. I know that this is true of us so I have addressed you as such.
You are probably wondering why I have written you this letter so soon when we had just said good-by only a few hours ago, but I felt that I owed it to myself and you to tell you some of the things I should have said and didn’t when the time came for us to part. I don’t know why I didn’t. Perhaps, it was because we are Japanese, but mainly because, I think, I was a little bit self-conscious.
You are old now—aged since Mother passed away many years ago and left you three little children to raise, but once you were not so old. You were young when she was alive and I can still remember what a happy family we were then.
Do you remember when we all went crab-fishing to West Seattle—that time when I was bitten by a crab and howled so lustily? How you gently pried it from my fingers and then kissed them, which was such a strange thing for a Japanese to do, and when you saw mother looking; you acted sort of gruff and turned sheepishly away? But mother knew and loved you more.
Do you remember the day when we went fishing on Snoqualmie River and caught all those little trout, and when we were apprehended by the game warden, the difficulty you had explaining to him that we wanted to put them into the pool in our garden? The time we went hunting in Seward Park with a b.b. gun and were almost arrested, and the scolding we received from Mother when we came home? Do you remember how happy we were when mother was alive and you were young?
Then tragedy struck our home. I do not like to remember the months after she passed away. How lonely we children were and how more lonely you must have been. I know now how much you loved her, more than any or all of us. She was not a picture bride. You had met her when both of you were students in Hawaii, and you two had fallen in love. How happy you must been together in your early days of marriage, I can only imagine from the happiness I knew.
Then that awful night when she died, you came home and told us as gently as only you knew how that she had gone away, that we mustn’t cry because mother wouldn’t want us to. Hiro and I were Japanese boys so we didn’t cry, at that time at least. But our little sister, she was such a little thing, cried into the night and, tired as you were from sleepless nights of vigil, you walked her to sleep.
You aged overnight. You would smile at us, but it was 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. Once I saw you weep, and I didn’t know what to do.
It is said that time is a healing balm, but I know that it was not time which awakened you from the numbness of this loss. You loved mother more but you loved us too. We were her heritage to you, born of her in her love of you and now left in your care. The love you had for her now you gave to us. You were a father. Now you also became a mother and a little something more, and thinking of our welfare, you never remarried.
This was all very difficult for you at first for we were such thoughtless little ruffians. How trying we must have been to a lonely father, I can only imagine. But the thought that we were without love of a mother constantly tempered your anger and impatience, and you loved us a little more for our weaknesses. This, in your love for us you found surcease from sorrow and loneliness. And so the years passed.
I was now in grammar school. How proud you were of me when I made the school’s indoor ball team. You looked so pleased when I showed you the letter I had won. But also how sad you could appear when you saw my report card, but remembering your boyhood, you understood.
As we grew older, you became more our companion than a father, and business was better so that you could devote more of your time to our leisure’s. Do you remember the vacation we four spent in Idaho in the summer of 1927, the beauty of the places and the lakes which were teeming with bass which struck your bait with savage viciousness and fought to the bitter end? And the biggest fish that always got away? We four were almost as happy as when we were five.
Then came the Depression and overnight we were poor. Your business and even the college fund you had saved for me were lost in the debacle. I wanted to leave school and go to work, but you were vehemently against it. How well I remember that evening when, finding you were so haggard and care worn, I hopefully suggested this possibility.
You slowly straightened your tired shoulders, and some of the haggardness slipped from your face as a smile of determination broke its bleakness.
No,” you said with quiet doggedness. “You shall continue your education.” It was a promise. I do not know even to this day how such a dogged courage could stem from so tired and frail a body, but it did. You worked harder; your hair became a little grayer; your face, a little more careworn, but we weathered the debacle. That I was able to graduate from high school near the top of my class, I owe to this selfless love.
Seven more years passed, and I was graduated from college. You were proud of me then. After the graduation ceremony when I gave you the diploma you held it close to your heart and there were tears of joy in your eyes. I saw you weep again for the second time.
The same year, Hiro was inducted into the Army, and we four were three. We held a farewell dinner in his honor, and do you remember the prayer you gave then: “God keep us and grant us peace”? But God in his mysterious way did not heed our plea.
One December morn, out of the friendly sky, treachery struck with appalling devastation. You turned pale when you heard the news. For days father, you were silent in your misery. Japan was the country of your birth, but America, the country of your choice. From that day you ceased speaking of Japan. Out of this treachery grew our misery.
In the spring of the following year, we were forced to evacuate to the relocation centers. It was a bitter blow to me. I, a citizen, with a brother already serving in the Army, must evacuate, and I could not understand why the German and the Italian aliens were not included. I had had an abounding faith in the justice of this nation, but she in return had placed me behind barbed wires, like any enemy alien. I was stricken with bitterness, and bitter was my denunciation of the government for this apparent discrimination.
Then you comforted me and slowly withdrew the sting of bitterness as you did many years ago when mother passed away. I could not understand at the time why you should attempt to restore my faith in the government which had never given you the right of citizenship and now by evacuation had made you again penniless. But I did not realize the love you bore for this country, made dearer because here it was that mother had died and had been laid to rest: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
How clearly I remember your words of consolation now, even as I write this letter. Wisely you said: “It is for the best. For the good of many a few must suffer. This is your sacrifice, accept it as such, and you will no longer be bitter.” I listened to your words and the bitterness left me. I despised alien without citizenship, you showed me what it means to be a citizen. That I have retained my faith through this trying period and emerged what I am, a loyal American citizen, I owe to your understanding.
When the time came for enlistment, I was ready, my faith and loyalty restored, stronger, firmer, and unwavering; I volunteered. And tonight as the train carries me farther and farther from you, it also seemed to carry me back over the years of our happy life, recalling to me those days when we were five, then four, then three, and now you’re only two. I have written this letter as they came to me.
There is old Japanese or is it a Chinese saying that a man must weep thrice ere his span of life is done, or words to this effect. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I have already seen you weep twice, one in sorrow and once in joy, and if this is true and it is predestined that you must weep again, then dad, let it be for me—once in glory, for the victory that shall surely be mine. God bless you, Dad, and keep you until this happy day.