On May 16, 1992, Armed Forces Day, veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated Japanese American World War II unit that was the most decorated in American history, planted a redwood sapling in Oakland’s Roberts Regional Recreation Area to honor their buddies who never made it back. And they’ve returned every year since then to hold a memorial service under that sapling, which has grown into a towering tree.
My name is Yoshie. But my club is called Yoshi’s. It’s easier for Americans to say.
Eureka! The Diving Bell and the Bullet Wound
On August 4, 1919, Berkeley chemist Joel H. Hildebrand (above, right) was shot and wounded by a lab assistant who accused the professor of opposing his application for appointment. Hildebrand survived—fortunately for the Navy. Twenty years later, in 1939, his work on the properties of gasses being dissolved into liquids saved the lives of 33 members of the USS Squalus when their submarine sank.
I enlisted in 1966, in the Navy, so that I wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam. But it didn’t work out that way. I was sent to work as an advisor to the Vietnamese Navy’s swift boat operations in Qui Nhon, north of Nha Trang; beautiful country, beautiful people.
We had about ten boats operating there, and about 20 U.S. personnel. The mission was to patrol the coast to make sure the North Vietnamese weren’t coming in with contraband. We also worked with Seal Team One insertions and did MEDCAPs, where we’d take corpsmen or doctors in to treat villagers without medical care.
It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2005, and we were on base—this was in Hit City, Iraq—waiting for the very last convoy to come in, so we could watch the game together. It was gonna be a special night. We were going to have wings. It was about three in the morning, and that’s when we heard the booms. I lost count of how many. We all loaded up, headed out to go see what’s happening, and confirmed it was an incident involving our personnel—the last convoy in.
I registered for the draft when I was 18 and was called up in March 1944, just five years after my parents and I had arrived in the United States as Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. I still hadn’t finished high school and was technically an “enemy alien.”
My eyesight was so bad that I had to memorize and fake reading the first two lines of the eye chart to pass my physical. Certainly I wanted to fight the Nazis, but I also wanted to get away from home and be part of history in the making.
We all have a certain subset of memories burned deep in our forebrains: images so vivid, so invested with emotion that the decades serve to sharpen rather than diminish their resolution. It could be a few mental frames from childhood: a tableau of mother and puppy on a vast expanse of lawn. Or a traumatic event: the onrush of ruby brake lights just before a collision. Such memories seem fixed in amber, impervious to time; richly detailed images that can be examined again and again from all aspects.
I’d been sitting there for 30 minutes staring at my Arabic homework when Elijah texted me.
What do you think about getting together around 5?
OK where you wanna meet at?
I’m studying at Peet’s on Telegraph if that’s cool with you
It was June 1954, the day after graduation. I had just received my shiny electrical engineering diploma from the imposing and stentorian UC President Robert Gordon Sproul. After finishing dinner with my proud parents, then bidding them a safe journey back to my hometown Los Angeles, I returned to my room in dear old Bowles Hall and began the Augean task of packing my stuff and loading it into my trusty 1941 Plymouth.