This is the final installment of a series, which started Aug. 12.
Compiling the Tadashi Nagaki and Mary Previte stories was one of the most challenging assignments I've confronted in some time. Probably on the same scale as the two-part series I wrote several years ago regarding Pfc Joe Shiomichi of the 442nd RCT and the tragic effec this battle field death had on his wife and later the daughter he never saw. But why bother readers complaining about the difficulties faced in composing a story?
If I happened to be a chicken rancher I don't imagine you would be much interested in an explanation of how to capon a rooster;or if a mechanic, how you go about priming a NASCAR racer. (In case anyone wants to know, a rooster is castrated and raised as a capon for meat; I don't know nothing about cars.)
That being said, this story behind the story deserves a review. First to point out why it took more than TWO years to finally appear on the pages of the Rafu Shimpo and secondly, the obstacles overcome compiling this series of columns.
Nori Uyematsu, a Korean War veteran, initially provided the background information regarding the Nagaki story, providing me with important details about Mary Previte's persistent hero search. (There had been an earlier story about Duck Team that Nagaki was not completely comfortable with and thus leery of any sort of reprise.)
After making contact with Previte I put the story on hold for additional research and later direct contact with Tadashi Nagaki to get his approval. Once the project was revived the first order of business was to convince him the unique story was worth repeating. His inherent reticence and modesty made him hesitate talking to a strange reporter calling from Los Angeles.
Unconditional endorsement and encouragement by Previte was the deal-maker. She was so pleased that a Japanese American publication would give her friend the recognition she felt so strongly he deserved. Even at this late date.
I was most interested in his personal recollections and thoughts rather than the usual genre of combat and military stuff. Dealing with taciturnity and a disinclination to open up makes telephonic interviewing a trying task. Eventually talking about mutual widower status and having also experienced the loss of a son helped create a level of trust. And the sheer coincidence of knowing of his wife in Poston Relocation Center was a bonus factor.
Using a Crossroads to Somewhere version of "Six Degrees of Separation" was the final ice breaker. You know the game: Two complete strangers meet and it takes only six names before you find a mutual connection. As created by W.T. Hiroto for Tadashi Nagaki, the connection went like this:
I lived in Poston Unit One Block 53-1-C (which means absolutely nada when talking to a native Nebraskan who had never experienced Evacuation). A friend and teammate, Toshio "Joker" Okamura lived in 53-5-D. He had an older brother, Henry Naohiko, who had a steady girl friend named Mary. She, in turn, had an older sister, Atsuko, nicknamed "Butch", who left camp for a job in Minneapolis. A friend arranges a blind date for her with a shy and lonesome soldier. Who turns out to be Tadashi Nagaki. Voila! Six Degrees of Separation.
Finally gaining some semblance of trust I still couldn't get him to reveal what his exact thoughts were as he parachuted onto the corn field outside Weishun CivilianAssembly Center, not knowing whether there were Japanese troops awaiting their arrival or maybe poisoned punji sticks. He would shrug off the question saying there wasn't time to think.
No, unlike Ms. Previte, CR2S does not plan to visit the down-to and of-the-earth Nebraska farmer, although the thought of at least one visit to America's heartland does have appeal. Watching wheat grow or sugar beets being harvested might not be as exciting as a Manny Ramirez home run but I'm willing to wager I could probably gain Tad's attention if I said something disparaging about the Cornhusker's football team
I readily admit to having an over abundance of material for this series, thanks in part to the prolific and generous Mary Previte. I gained her attention and cooperation when told I wanted to focus the series of articles on her hero and friend, Tadashi Nagaki, the one who wants nothing to do with talk of heroism or its accompanying accouterments.
It is truly a pleasure but a problem communicating with someone who doesn't enjoy talking about himself. But the several conversations I had with Nagaki were as refreshing as a nor'easter, nary a single boast or "I" statement. (I do wish the fact that only a Poston Recreation Hall building separating me from his wife-to-be would rank higher on his list of astonishing coincidences!)
Citing family history was once a staple in all Nisei newspaper stories, be it a wedding, story of achievement or business venture; the information given to inform readership of the principal's background and history. Nagaki's family tree begins in 1881 in Saga, Yamaguchi prefecture, with Minosuke, 21, finding himself in Hawaii at the turn of the century. Arriving in the United States in 1906 he worked in and around San Francisco, traveling to Seattle in 1916 to marry picture bride Shige Kato.
Railroad employment took the Nagakis to the North Platte Valley region of Nebraska where the first three of the clan's offspringwereborn,Tadashithe third born in 1920. Eventually there would be four sons and two daughters. Both Minosuke and Shige achieved citizenship status in 1953.
With the untimely deaths of all three sons of Tad and Asako, it appears a near century of Nebraska farming by nurturing Nagaki hands will eventually come to an end. Because of physical infirmities and encroaching age Tad has had to drastically curtail his daily farming responsibilities.With none of the family grandchildren interested, the epochal era of Nagaki agriculturists in Nebraska will become past history. Tad will celebrate his 90th birth date this coming January.
It is not exactly professional to tack on personal messages to public writings but I have to thank Mary for her gracious sharing, Nori for identifying a good story and Tadashi for his patience and understanding. Sir, stay well. Myanmar it is today but I'm sure it will forever be a memorable Burma as far as you are concerned.