I Just Returned from a Memorial Service of a Man I’ve Never Met

I just returned from a memorial service of a man I’ve never met. He was a distant relative of my elderly father-in-law who would not have been able to go if I hadn’t taken him.

The deceased was born in 1918. When he was in school his class took a bus on a field trip to a public pool to go swimming. When they arrived, he and another boy were told they couldn’t go swimming and had to stay on the bus the whole time while all of the rest of the students got to go swimming. They had committed a terrible crime. They’d neglected to be born white.

He was dirt poor. So poor he had to drop out of school to help support his family. He didn’t get to go to high school until he was 21–a freshman in a class full of 14 year olds.

He joined the Army six months before Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the war began he joined a secret unit called MIS, an intelligence group that was never mentioned in the news throughout the whole war and for a quarter of a century later. Ultimately it was credited with helping to save a million American lives and end the war two years sooner.

He served as an interpreter and interrogator to many Japanese POW’s during the war, and then war criminals after Japan surrendered. He interrogated and interpreted for Tojo, Japan’s Prime Minister and top war leader, and for the Japanese General who was in charge of the atrocities that occurred during the Bataan Death March.

For his wartime efforts, weeks before his death at the age of 94 he (and other remaining survivors of MIS) received the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest award for civilians and joining the ranks of fellow recipients George Washington, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King.

I just returned from a memorial service of a man I’ve never met, but wish I had.

Walter Tanaka, thank you for your service and the legacy you left behind.

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About russtowne

My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 4 young grandsons. I manage a wealth management firm I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of 23 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children. In addition to my family, friends, investing, and writing, my passions include reading, watching classic movies, experiencing waves crashing on rocky shores, hiking in ancient redwood forests, and enjoying our small redwood grove and fern garden.
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4 Responses to I Just Returned from a Memorial Service of a Man I’ve Never Met

  1. Paws To Talk says:

    Two paws up for this human
    Bella and DiDi

  2. russtowne says:

    Two thumbs up for these dogs!

  3. Sierra says:

    Hi, I was just wondering who your father-in-law might be. Walter Tanaka was my grandfather. I really enjoyed your synopsis. You remembered a lot! Thank you!

    • russtowne says:

      It is a small world. Thank you for your message. It was one of the first I’d read today and brought a smile to my face. My condolences at your loss.

      My father-in-law is Bob Fukuda. Another good man. I’ve been blessed to have had him in my life for over 33 years. He’s a quiet and humble man who just does what needs doing when it needs doing. That’s my definition of a hero. I recently told him how much he has meant to me and my family and how much I’ve enjoyed and appreciated having him as my father-in-law. He simply replied, “well, I don’t talk much” with an embarrassed shrug, but the look in his eyes told me he was touched by the sincere compliments.

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