Wednesday, July 13, 2005

More on 'Strawberry Days'

We had a nice turnout for the Strawberry Days signing at the University Book Store last night, including a surprise visit from one of my interviewees, Kiyo Yabuki.

Kiyo was a veteran of the 442nd who was wounded near Bruyeres during the famed "Lost Battalion" rescue. He grew up in Bellevue, and settled just outside of town eventually, making a living as a postman. He told us last night that one of his customers on his old route in Bellevue was Miller Freeman. For those who've read the book, you'll understand the significance.

Or, you can just read Chris Winters' nice feature on the book for the King County Journal, which is the descendant of the old Journal American, where I wrote the first iterations of this story. (I was the JA's news editor from 1991 to 1994.) Winters provides a worthwhile summary of much of the material in the book, including some regarding Freeman.

At any rate, I was honored and tickled to see Kiyo. He has a lively personality, a gleam in his eye, and a quick smile. His Purple Heart was well earned; Kiyo was hit in the back of the legs by tree shrapnel and had his ligaments severed, and spent many months recovering. One of the more notable anecdotes from the book involves him:
He was hospitalized at a military installation in Vancouver, Washington, for most of the year he spent in rehabilitation.

"One time, when I was in the hospital in Vancouver, there was a couple from Portland that used to come visit the patients at the hospital," he recalled. "I guess I made a remark about the rain coming from Portland, and it really ticked this lady off. I was just joking. Knowing that I was of Japanese ancestry, she made a remark about Japs, that, 'You're just fortunate that you're alive. A lot of our boys were killed.' I couldn't argue with her on that one. I was just too slow with any kind of comeback. Maybe it was a good thing I didn't.

"Then again, being sensitive to discrimination, it really made me kind of shrink back. Even with the uniform on, you had the feeling you were in the wrong."

Bedridden for much of his time in Vancouver, Kiyo was glad to return home when he finally was released. His older brother, Alan, was trying energetically to resurrect their home and greenhouse at Hunts Point, since both had been ruined during their stay away.

Kiyo decided one day that his Army uniform needed dry-cleaning, so he took it down to a Bellevue cleaning service to get it done.

They refused to serve him -- because he was Japanese.

Kiyo recovered well enough to become a mail carrier, which was his job until he retired in 1989. Kiyo was as spry as any 80-plus-year-old I knew until recently, when he suffered severe injuries in a fall at his home, and now lives in a care facility. But his mind, it was obvious, is as lively as ever, just like the gleam in his eye.

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