Talk to A Veteran, Listen to their Stories

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Exhibit Manager at Go For Broke National Education Center

Blog 21

“We try to do our share to keep the story of the 442nd going.  We try to make sure that the story – the legacy – is left behind.  But I tell people, ‘Don’t put us on a pedestal where you don’t want to talk to us.  We’re just your regular brothers, your uncles, your dads.’” 

– Henry “Hank” Yoshitake, Veteran of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team

Our collection of oral history interviews has literally thousands of powerful quotes, stories, lessons, and anecdotes.  The above is one of my favorites.  It comes from World War II veteran Henry “Hank” Yoshitake, who was in Company A of the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

One of the most difficult things to do is to realize that our “heroes” were and are just ordinary people.  Yes, they showed courage that most of us cannot even imagine, sacrificed their very lives, and made America the country that it is today.  But they are also just normal men and women, often who have faced many of the same daily joys and sorrows that we ourselves face.  The men of the 100th, 442nd, and MIS were not superhuman, even though their actions often seemed as such.

That is why I like Mr. Yoshitake’s quote so much.  He is aware that most people view him and his fellow veterans as untouchable heroes in the community, up upon pedestals and out of reach.  They are seen as unapproachable: heroes to be praised, not simple friends to start up a conversation with.  And it saddens him.  Because so many younger people see him as a “hero” and not as a “normal person” like themselves, they are often too intimidated to start up conversations.  And in this disconnect, the history fails to be passed on.  Sure, the lore of the veterans’ accomplishments lives on, but the very human struggles that they overcome are forgotten within simple hero worship.

To me, Mr. Yoshitake and his fellow veterans become even more heroic when I remember that they are just ordinary people like ourselves.  They had no superpowers, which would have made their job easy.  Instead, they relied upon their own astounding courage, valor, and character.  Victory was never assured.  Their job was never easy.  And yet they still overcame all of these difficulties with a bravery and perseverance that should be a model for all people.  They were normal young men, and their astounding valor and heroics should be an inspiration to us, proving that we can act likewise in whatever endeavors we face.

So please, listen to Mr. Yoshitake’s advice.  Talk with the veterans.  Start a conversation.  Listen.  Sure, we should still call them “heroes,” because they are.  But we should also call them “friends.”  They are our grandfathers, our uncles, our neighbors, our pals.  Pull up a chair and start a conversation with them, and learn their story.  It truly will astound you what ordinary human beings can do!

Check out Mr. Yoshitake’s entire interview here:


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