Almost every American’s family tree includes ancestors who honorably served in the U.S. military. A thankfully small percentage of them died while serving their country.
I truly hope your loved ones safely returned home from their military service. Memorial Day is a special day of remembrance for those who didn’t.
My family is fortunate. In World War II, my grandfather Fusakichi Sagami ordered all eight of his sons (including my father Ken) to volunteer for the U.S. Army even though he, his wife Mitsue, and their 10 children were among the 110,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry held in the World War II internment camps.
Only one of those Sagami boys, Yohei Sagami, was killed in France in 1944. He was 22 years old, never married, no children.
Picture of the 1939 State Football Champions, including Yohei Sagami (2nd from left, 2nd row). Yohei was killed 5 years after this photo was taken. To the best of my knowledge, only two Sagami boys to have ever played on a high school state champion football team: Yohei in 1939 in Washington and my son, Kenji, in 2010 in Montana.
Another soldier saw Yohei killed and described it for posterity.
“So artillery shells, now I hear this one coming in, boom. That was incoming. I found out what incoming was.
“But when you hear it, little fluttering going on, that’s outgoing, that was our guns going. But when you hear something go [makes sound effect], that’s incoming.
“So when that came in, blew me up and I was over there, 10 feet, and ached all over, and got up, sores all, looked, and I got a nick here.
“But I looked down, Yohei Sagami from Wenatchee, Wash., was talking; we were talking what are we going to do when we get out and this and that.
“He’s laying down, facedown, I picked him up, turned him over, he got hit in the jugular vein, and the pulse, blood was coming out every time he’d, pulse beating. And I couldn’t stop it without choking him.
“I tried to put a pad on there, but still, he couldn’t breathe, and had relaxed, but blood was coming out. Medics came, but he died, he’d lost too much blood, he died.
“So that was my, one of my first buddy dying.”
Yohei is buried in Tacoma, Wash., next to Fusakichi and Mitsue Sagami, and about 100 feet away from my father and mother.
I never meet my Uncle Yohei, but our family continues to honor his service and sacrifice every Memorial Day.
I know, however, that my uncle is just one of hundreds of thousands of Americans that have sacrificed their life for the preservation of the freedoms we enjoy today.
Let us never forget: Freedom is absolutely not free.