Published with Permission
Editor’s Note: On Saturday, June 6, 2020, the Go For Broke National Education Center held a virtual celebration for the 21st anniversary of the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. The purpose of the celebration was to honor the legacy of Japanese American veterans who served in World War II. The Hawai’i Herald is grateful for the opportunity to share this keynote speech presented by Kisa Ito, granddaughter of 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Lawson Ichiro Sakai, who grew up in Montebello near Los Angeles.
The entire event can be viewed on the GFBNEC YouTube channel (youtube.com/watch?v=W51s6X3QV54). Ito’s grandfather passed away peacefully on June 16, just 10 days after the celebration.
Hello everyone, my name is Kisa Ito. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my grandfather, Lawson Sakai. From a very young age, I was well aware of a few key characteristics that define my grandpa. First, he was always the life of the party. Next, he loved golf and sports in general — especially Bay Area teams. And finally, he loved ice cream. Grandpa is always down for a good time and enjoys spending time with other people.
As a child, I had very little understanding of my grandpa’s time in the army; today, I have vague memories of the items in my grandparents’ home identifying him as a World War II veteran. I must have been pretty young when my mom tried to explain to me that, “Grandpa has a Purple Heart.”
I responded in confusion, “How do you know?” — with the impression that she had somehow seen an x-ray revealing a uniquely colored organ inside my grandpa’s chest.
Grandpa loves connecting with people and building community. He has a large circle of friends, a typically bustling social calendar and active Facebook engagements. He even endorsed me on LinkedIn. He founded a nonprofit called Friends and Family of Nisei Veterans to create opportunities for people with similar family experiences and shared interests to gather as a community and celebrate the legacy of Nisei vets.
When I was in college, my mom started to spend a lot of time volunteering with FFNV; I began to grasp how dedicated my grandpa was to this cause and community of friends. I’ve since had the opportunity to participate in some FFNV reunions and events, and am always struck by the enthusiasm and warmth of the participants who’ve grown to be close friends of my grandfather. At these gatherings, my grandpa and his fellow vets were abIe to open up about the 442nd [RCT] and 100th [Infantry Battalion], and I learned so much about their experiences. This is, in part, why I am so grateful for the people and organizations dedicated to continuing to share these stories of Nisei veterans.
Last July, thanks to encouragement from my mom, some of us grandchildren traveled with my mom and grandpa to France on the FFNV tour. Since the war, my grandpa has returned to France many times, but I knew very little about these trips or his time during the war at all. It was a trip of many firsts: my first trip to Europe, first time traveling with Grandpa, and first time learning about his tour in France as a 20-year old soldier.
He recounted painful memories of battles, shared stories about those who sacrificed their lives and didn’t make it home, and introduced us to friends he had made over many visits to France. It was also the first time I had witnessed such a somber version of my typically bright and charismatic grandpa. It wasn’t until this trip that I realized that his zest for life, his will to build community and connect with others, was to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by his peers.
I finally understood that, though he seldom mentioned his time in the 442nd to us while growing up, it continues to play an instrumental role in the way that he lives his life — with gratitude and joy. Even though he was (as we all were) exhausted from the jet lag and busy tour schedule, he still enjoyed himself to the fullest — having drinks at dinner and catching up with his friends. It made me laugh when I caught him between activities on his [smart]phone, checking [his Facebook account] and liking and commenting on friends’ posts.
Since our trip to France, I haven’t really spoken to my Grandpa much about the trip and how much I learned about the 442nd and 100th, but I know that our relationship is stronger thanks to that shared experience. Hearing his detailed accounts of the battles, seeing his emotional response to the monuments and cemeteries, are memories I will always carry close to my heart. I’ve heard from fellow grandchildren and children of veterans that many of us haven’t heard these stories directly from our family members, and I recognize that culturally it can still be difficult to talk about the challenges and injustices that our community faced during World War II. I’m deeply grateful for organizations like Go For Broke and FFNV that sustain the legacy of the Nisei veterans; provide valuable education on this chapter of history; and for me, provide the chance to learn more about my grandpa’s experience and my family legacy.
Grandpa is just one of many Nisei veterans who embody the Go For Broke spirit and remind us all to live life more fully, more intentionally. Thanks to him, I am inspired to be present in my interactions with others and be dedicated to the community. And to embrace life — even when it’s tough. I hope that my grandpa is watching this right now, perhaps while enjoying a root-beer float. I’m endlessly thankful for this community and the many people who make occasions like this one possible. Thank you again for this opportunity to share with you today.
Kisa Ito is a yonsei Los Angeles native and has spent much of her life in Little Tokyo. She is a member of the GFBNEC Torchbearers.
She is currently the marketing and development manager at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. In her spare time, she enjoys eating pasta and making jewelry.