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The end of an era

At the end of the day today I was surprised to see a message on my photography toll free number.   As I listened to the message, it was my cousin Kathleen whose message carried something that I have expected, but not wanted to hear; my uncle Harvey had passed away on Sunday February 24th.

I had called my aunt on that Sunday in the afternoon just before Tracy and I went to SF to view the David Seymour photography exhibit.  I wanted to know how she was doing and if my uncle’s condition had worsened.  She told me that he was not conscious, but slipped in and out of consciousness with each passing day.  It was good to speak with her even though I was not able to speak to my uncle.  I simply asked her to say hello to him for me.

So when I returned my cousin’s call today, I was moved when she told me that my aunt had requested that I give the eulogy at my uncle’s upcoming funeral.  As I drove home, I began to gather my thoughts and feelings about all Harvey had meant to me as a child, teen and in my adult years.  The youngest of my Dad’s family, Harvey was the most quiet and reserved, but his outward appearance hid an inner strength and power. A warrior spirit carried by my family from the era when my ancestors served as Samurai.

Like the rest of my family, Harvey was interned in the Japanese Relocation Centers during World War II.   Unlike my older uncles on my Mom’s side of the family he and my Dad were too young to serve in the 442nd during WWII, but were old enough to enlist in the armed forces during the Korean war.  Harvey had always wanted to be a pilot and was the very first Japanese American Naval Aviator for the US Navy.  Becoming a Naval aviator flying off aircraft carriers is no small feat in and of itself.  But to break down the prejudice of that time and put aside the injustice placed on all Japanese Americans was an almost effortless  thing for my uncle.  Like most Japanese Americans during that time, it was all about proving their allegiance to the United States; the country my grandfather immigrated to in order to start a new life.

As a young child I remember when he would place his fighter pilot helmet on my little head and pick me up and ‘fly’ me around the apartment telling me to take my time sighting in the enemy before pressing the firing button on my imaginary machine gun.  It was not until much later when he showed me his nose cone film footage of his dog fights over Korea that I realized how aggressive my mild mannered uncle was during war.  Today I recalled my last visit to Harvey when I showed him the 550-700 year old katana I recently acquired.   His eyes lit up as he viewed the magnificent craftsmanship of the steel and I was so pleased when he touched the tang of the sword, feeling the rich patina from centuries of history contained in the artifact.  It was even more poignant since our own family katana and wakazashi were stolen long ago which my grandfather brought over from Japan when he immigrated to America.

There are many thoughts and feelings I have toward my uncle who was the last remaining Kitaoka of that generation.  And as of Sunday, February 24, 2008 it is up to my son and I to carry on the honor and integrity of my family’s proud surname.  I’m sure that I will have many thoughts and feelings over the weeks, months and years to come.  Some I may share here and others will be private thoughts that I will utter and feel only to myself.   But I will always promise to you Harvey, Dad and Aunt Chiz to live and act with honor.

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