A peaceful man (1915-2007)
As a young man in his late 20s, Masaichi Okamura nearly joined the all Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- the most decorated combat unit during World War II, yet was persuaded by a friend not to join, instead serving his country on the island of Oahu. (Years ago, I remember seeing a black and white picture of him, looking stern wearing the outdated flat-rim metal helmet of the previous war. Then and now, the homefront always suffers from the lag of up-to-date equipment rushed forward to the field of battle).
Not joining the 442nd likely affected many future timelines, including my own -- as the unit ended up having one of the country's highest casualty rates (about 93 percent of its members wounded, missing or killed and earning nearly 9,500 Purple Hearts).
Instead, he married my grandmother, found a nice spot of farming land halfway up a dormant volcano on Maui, and raised six children. Like many of his era, his handiwork helped him acquire luxuries he otherwise would not have had -- he painted his own car and developed his own pictures -- tiny, two-inch square pictures of my mom and her siblings as little tykes. When he wasn't laboring over growing cabbage and onions in his fields, he sketched to round out his kids' school projects.
I first met him in the early 1980s when we lived in northern California when he and my grandmother came to the mainland for a farm tour. He always smiled and had kind things to say, even though we didn't know each other well (I am the only one of my family members to be born on the mainland). Later, I would make trips to see him and my Hawaii relatives. He was still the same, smiling man who always had kind things to say.
This seemed to be similar to what people had to say about him during yesterday's funeral. Prolly about 200 people, many with the most expressive, peaceful faces, came to wish him a good afterlife, packing the community Buddhist temple and wearing "island casual" -- a good Aloha shirt, some nice trousers, and, in some cases, squeaky clean sneakers.
His urn and a nice picture of him sat among a field of white flowers before the temple's immensely beautiful guilded altar -- a golden pagoda housing an image of the Buddha jutting out into the temple. A young Japanese minister performed the service.
"We are all part of a net," the young minister told his flock in an earnest way that reminded me of maybe how the young Martin Luther King spoke to his church members when he started out in Montgomery, Ala. The message: We depend on each other.
For a long time, I've always wondered what I have to do with a clan of peaceful Buddhists who farm in paradise. But now I know. My grandfather always worked to make sure that the farthest strands of the net -- more than 4,000 miles away -- always remained tightly tied to the center. When I run up hilly grades, I realize I have gained his endurance in the fields and his determination. When I get up at two in the morning to write a very off-topic post about my grandfather, I realize I have some of his creativity.
And maybe I'm helping pick up new strands, making ties for the net he tended until his death last Wednesday. One smile from a simple but wise old man begets a kind act that snowballs into a way of life, even a whole world that a peaceful man can be proud of.