I keep putting off writing in this section. My ten-year high school reunion was about a month ago; I intended to write a whole piece about it but for one reason or another I've kept putting it off. This past weekend I rejoined a gym for the first time in five years and I had meant to write about that as well, but it just keeps slipping out. But this one I can't put off--my grandfather, Roy Sakasegawa, died this week.
I don't think it's really sunk in for any of us just yet, as it all happened so quickly. On Tuesday night he was apparently fine--he ate his dinner, did his normal evening stuff, and went to bed as usual. When he woke up on Wednesday morning, though, he couldn't get out of bed, and when they got him to the hospital they told him he was having a heart attack. Apparently, he'd had some severe blockage in his arteries for some time now and had only one clear artery left. They tried to put a stent in and even though it didn't look good at first--he developed fluid in his lungs and his kidneys also looked bad--we had some hope because he was alert and seemed in good spirits. Later his lungs started to clear and he urinated, which seemed good signs, but later that night he crashed a couple of times and he had to be put on life support. The doctors said there wasn't any use at that point, that three-quarters of his heart was basically gone, so they decided to take the tubes out. My grandmother said that they gave him a lot of painkillers, that he didn't seem to be suffering at all, and that he kept repeating that he'd had a good life and that he loved us all. My dad said that it only took about five minutes for him to pass after they took him off the machines.
When I think about my grandfather I have to admit that I didn't know him very well. He wasn't an easy person to know, I think--he never did say much, and for my whole life his low, sort of mumbling, gravelly voice was kind of hard to understand. Though, he was always clear in how proud he was of me and my brothers and cousins.
One thing I know about him is how proud he was of his military service. My grandfather served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. The 442 was an all-Japanese-American unit, and for its size and length of service it remains the most highly decorated unit in the history of the United States. It's always astonished me how the men of that regiment could have done so much for a country that didn't take care of them, that they fought and died while at the same time their relatives were rounded up and placed in internment camps. It's something that always made me proud of my grandfather.
What he actually did in the war has remained a mystery to me, though, and to the rest of the family. Like so many veterans, he was always reticent to speak about it, and what little he did say generally played down his part in it. I remember when I interviewed him for my high school history class, he spoke about his friend who always dug really square foxholes, or the time he spent resting in Nice. He would say that he only ever fired his weapon a few times, and mostly war was about jumping into foxholes. And yet, the accounts I've read of the 442--indeed of his company's actions--make it clear that he must have been involved in some intense fighting. Among the medals he was awarded were the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star, but when you'd ask him about them he'd just wave off the question, saying that they gave those to everyone. I know he was involved in the action rescuing the Lost Battalion (1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division) in the Vosges mountains in France--for which he and the rest of the 442 were made honorary citizens of Texas--and that he was wounded in Livorno, Italy. (Coincidentally, my mother was born in Livorno nearly 10 years later, when her own father was stationed there.) From what I can piece together by tracking his company's actions, he must have done a lot more, as well.
What else do I know about him? Like most Japanese-Americans I've known, he valued hard work and family. He had eight brothers and sisters--consequently, Sakasegawa family reunions have been impressively huge. He was married to my grandmother for 57 years. He owned a farm when I was little--some of my earliest memories are of the hayrides he would take us on.
There's more, but when you add it all up it doesn't seem like much. I suppose that it may not be possible to truly know someone else but what's really coming home to me is that there's a lot I don't know about the people who are close to me, and that the time I have to learn it is limited. I hope that I'll take this opportunity to find out more about my family's story, that I don't let it slide by like I've done so far. I guess we'll see. But in the end, I suppose it is some comfort to me that I knew him at all, that some piece of him remains in my mind and in the memories of those around him.
Rest in peace, Grandpa.