The Nisei Veterans’ Exhibit aboard the USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier Museum, Alameda, CA is normally open Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Due to COVID restrictions, the Nisei Veterans’ Exhibit aboard the USS Hornet Museum will be closed until further notice.
Questions? Please contact Brian Shiroyama at [email protected] or call (408) 896-1021 to learn of its current status.
MEMORIES OF LAWSON SAKAI
In 2001, Morgan Hill Buddhist Community Center recognized and honored local Nisei veterans during its spring festival called Haru Matsuri. I was fortunate to meet Lawson, a well-respected veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442nd RCT). Immediately, his distinguished appearance and demeanor impressed me.
Some men aren’t tall but we all look up to in great respect. Some men can deliver inspirational speeches totally from memory. Some men are so positive about life that their “let’s do it” attitude becomes contagious. Lawson had all those qualities.
By the time I met him, he had already established and led Northern California Chapter of his Company (Company E) of the 442nd RCT and organized reunions. In 1992, he spearheaded a project to honor the 442nd RCT by working with the East Bay Regional Park Commission, Oakland, CA, to plant a redwood tree in Oakland Hills in memory of fellow soldiers who did not return home. In addition, he erected a permanent monument adjacent to the redwood tree that explained the legendary exploits of the 442nd RCT. His name is not on the monument. But we all know that Lawson was there and will continue to be there. This is now the site of the annual memorial service for veterans of all wars on Armed Forces Day. Lawson’s uplifting speech at each memorial always captivated the appreciative audience.
In 2005, Lawson founded Friends and Family of Nisei Veterans (FFNV) by transforming his E Company group into a newly expanded role by inviting veterans of other Company veterans to join. Additionally, he invited the veterans of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) who fought in the Pacific. It was natural that he would become President of FFNV and hold that position forever. He did.
His meteoric rise in popularity caused him to speak at many events, film documentaries, and accept awards for his accomplishments. That’s when he hired me as his chauffeur and I was absolutely delighted. We both laughed that in my previous military life, I always had a sergeant who drove me everywhere. Now I was driving a sergeant.
I was able to vicariously enjoy his glory by just being everywhere with Lawson. I lost my count, but I know I have heard him speak a million times. Even though his speeches were almost always the same, I truly enjoyed every speech as if I heard it for the first time. His speeches were always genuinely inspiring. He so eloquently communicated his fundamental message – he and his fellow Nisei veterans fought to prove their loyalty to this country even while their families were still in internment camps.
In 2005, FFNV faced an interesting but a daunting challenge. We were asked to display an exhibit of the 442nd RCT and the MIS aboard the USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier Museum in Alameda, CA. I was skeptical from the start as I told Lawson that this Air Force retiree could not possibly create an Army exhibit aboard a Navy ship. Lawson’s response was immediate and simple: “Let’s do it.” His “can do” attitude ruled. And we did. It is now one of the most unique and very popular exhibit honoring our Nisei veterans.
Appropriately, Lawson’s accomplishments have resulted in many recognition and awards which are too many to mention here. Particularly noteworthy, however, was that his reputation led to two prestigious awards bestowed by the Government of Japan – from the Emperor and from the Foreign Minister for his role in promoting the welfare and reputation of Japanese-Americans in the United States. As a humble chauffer for Lawson, I felt deep satisfaction in seeing that my “ghost writing” for Japan’s Consulate General’s office, without Lawson’s knowledge, helped with these recognitions. Lawson laughed when I commented that since his ancestors came from the Prefecture of Kumamoto in Japan from which many notable samurai warriors came, he was clearly destined to be recognized with such prestigious awards.
Lawson’s life was a magnificent story of a “kid” from a small town scoring big in America. Montebello was so proud to have recognized Lawson as one of its outstanding alumni. His “enemy alien” draft status kept him from serving this country immediately after Pearl Harbor. When Lawson tried to join the Navy with his friends, he was rejected. But he did not hesitated to volunteer when the 442nd RCT was formed. He fought in all major campaigns. He was wounded four times. He emerged as a genuine American hero from World War II and dedicated the remainder of his life to tell the stories of his fellow veterans and to preserve their proud legacy.
We will dearly miss him.