Date: Aug 26, 2009
The Nagaki & Prevites Story:
By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto
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
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
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
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.
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached
Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu