When I was 11 years old, I watched “Go for Broke” on television. The 1951 film is about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was comprised of Nisei soldiers. My father was working on our car in the driveway. I did not hear him come into the living room behind me. Dad said: “Those guys were the toughest fighters I ever saw.” And with a bit of anger, he added: “I always hated it when they called them ‘Japs.’” And dad walked away. I assumed that dad was in the Lost Battalion portrayed in the film, and was saved by the Nisei 442nd soldiers at such great cost; I watched the film with greater interest.

I only had to dab dad with a finger to wake him from sleep. He would snap upright clutching the air in defensive panic 20 years after the artillery fire ceased.

Then he’d realize where he was and fall back to his pillow.

Military orders indicate that dad was probably evacuated to a hospital before the 442nd soldiers saved the Lost Battalion. Nonetheless, dad had clearly interacted with 442nd soldiers in France and was very impressed. My siblings and I might not be here today without the contributions of the 442nd soldiers, even if dad was not among the Lost Battalion.

Dad’s war anecdotes were often admonishments to be frugal, or grateful — contrasted with the hardships of the war: “We’d bathe from the water in a steel pot helmet. And that was our shaving water too. And maybe we’d have to drink from it too…” He did not speak much more of his war experiences.

In that one sentence, “I always hated it when they called them ‘Japs,’” dad taught me how words can be used to wrongly discriminate and dismiss any person. Perhaps dad’s words were an affirmation of the pain that the Nisei endured, of the contributions of those soldiers. I have related this story to many Nisei, Sansei and other people.

In 1999, I bicycled through France, following some of dad’s WWII battles. One particularly beautiful experience was the gratitude and hospitality I received from French citizens in Chabeuil, near Valence. I know the gratitude extended to me would include thanks to the 442nd soldiers and the sacrifices of all Americans during our assist in liberating Europe.

A veteran myself, I believe that both the Nisei volunteers, as well as the Nisei draft resisters, acted honorably, each in accordance with strong convictions. Difficult choices were forced upon this generation by the war and by unjust treatment. Thank you for your strength, perseverance, and contributions to our American culture and society.

Michael Belef is a Mountain View, Calif. native and a Danzan Ryu Jujitsu student. “The Good Tour,” Michael’s story about bicycling along his father’s WWII battle routes is available free, by searching the archives at: www.adventurecycling.org/library.

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