LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara

Air date: Tues., Dec. 10, 7:30 pm

 

Original air date: Tues., Dec. 10, 2013

 

A Quiet Struggle

 

There’s a humble man living in Honolulu who isn’t one to let people know of his extraordinary history. We finally persuaded him to sit down and share it.

 

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara is the first Japanese American admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. He also is a former internee, whose family was held for three years in so-called “relocation centers” that America built during World War II. Now retired after a Navy career as an officer, Mr. Yoshihara recounts in A Quiet Struggle what life was like living in internment camp cubicles. Despite that loss of freedom, you’ll hear him express great gratitude for his country and what it’s done for him.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara, A Quiet Struggle Audio

 

Download: Takeshi Yoshihara, A Quiet Struggle Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 7, 2014

 

An Historic Journey

 

After hardships during the Great Depression and World War II, Takeshi Yoshihara became the first Japanese American appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy. In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, Takeshi talks about what made him an unlikely Naval Academy candidate, and his journey through the ranks and, eventually, to Hawaii.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara, An Historic Journey Audio

 

Download: Takeshi Yoshihara, An Historic Journey Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1: A Quiet Struggle

 

I like to say that there was this great injustice to me, but on the other hand, what the country has meant to me, the opportunities that were offered to me, far outweigh the injustice.

 

For three years, Takeshi Yoshihara and his family lived in two small cubicles in a Japanese American internment camp. The experience, while traumatic for the young Takeshi and his family, did not leave him bitter. In fact, this Nisei would grow up to be a U.S. Navy officer, and make history in the process. Takeshi Yoshihara, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. More than one hundred ten thousand Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. What was it like to live in these camps? Tonight, Takeshi Yoshihara of Honolulu shares his story, which begins with his father’s arrival in American more than a century ago.

 

Your father came to the United States when he was a teenager. Why did he come?

 

I think he came, as so many from that part of Japan came; their economic opportunities were very limited.

 

What part of Japan was that?

 

It was called Hiroshima – ken, so it was in the vicinity of Hiroshima. And Japan was having a very difficult time economically, so a large number of Japanese immigrants came during that period in, probably the early 1900s. He arrived in maybe 1905, or somewhere in that time as a teenager. He was one of those recruited to work on a timber mill that was being built in the middle of a forest not far from Seattle, but on the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

 

So, when he wanted to get married, what did he do?

 

Well, on his trip back, he had complained that he needed a wife. And so, while he was there, his father and my mother’s father made some kinda deal that they would send a young lady after my father returned to the United States. And sure enough, a few months later, she arrived by herself on about a fifteen – day journey aboard ship.

 

So, his parents picked his wife for him?

 

Oh, yes; oh, yes. And they were from a neighboring family.

 

Well, what was your life like as a boy in the sawmill camp?

 

Well, I came along as the fourth child in a family that was to grow to eight children. My parents were living at that time in a small village. I’m not sure I would call it a village. They called it a camp, Japan Camp. I lived there until I was eight years old, but I still remember going to Japanese schools, learning Japanese culture, and especially the values of Japanese that I still remember to this day, and has contributed to my life. And it was a wonderful life. I think all my brothers and sisters look upon that period there as the most stable and happy lives, beginning lives.

 

Even though there wasn’t much materially.

 

Nothing materially. We lived in a little old building that people would call a shack now. But as a youngster, it was comfortable and warm, and we enjoyed it.

 

But it wouldn’t last. The Great Depression hit, and the sawmill closed down. Takeshi Yoshihara’s family was forced to find a new home, and a new way of life. Not easy for a family from a foreign country who could speak little English at the time.

 

My father had a neighbor from Japan who was farming a strawberry farm in Oregon. He and his wife had done very well, and they lived in what we considered a very fine home. Through their compassion and kindness, they invited my whole family of eight to live in their home. And there were two of them, and eight of us, so we kinda took over their home for a year. And he offered my parents both to work on the strawberry farm, and that continued for about a year until my father, his friend’s encouragement, thought it was a good time to start his own strawberry farm. And that’s what he did. Now, the home we lived in, and I can remember this very clearly because first thing one noticed is weeds growing out of the floor. Over the years, the land had shifted, and the roof leaked, and there was no water or plumbing.

 

Definitely a fixer – upper. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Fixer – upper would — not much to do to …

 

So, it was a property that probably nobody else wanted, and your dad —

 

Oh, it was an absolutely abandoned house. And I remember, to contain the leaking roof, we got these big vegetable cans of tomatoes or something, gallon cans, and we’d put it wherever it rained. And that was our —

 

And walked around the cans.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’ve done that. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right; you did that as well.

 

[CHUCKLE] But not with weeds growing up out of the floorboards.

 

We didn’t have water, we didn’t have sewage, or we didn’t even have electricity. So, we had a kerosene lamp, and …

 

How did you keep warm?

 

Well, we had blankets, so we kept warm all right. And stoves with plenty of wood to heat up the stove. They had a wood stove.

 

Strawberries take two years to grow. During that time, Takeshi Yoshihara’s family wouldn’t make much money, but the family was willing to make the sacrifice to become successful farmers. Then, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America joined the Second World War.

 

It was really a shocking incident for them. And of course, your reaction is, what’s gonna happen to us? They were aliens in the United States. Of course, we who were born were American citizens. They feared for a time that they would be picked up and put into prisoner of war camps. And then, I remember we got visits from the local FBI and the police. And here, they knew nothing; they could hardly speak English, and were just doing their business, but they felt intimidated. And then, there was a curfew that came along, and they were restricted from going anywhere. So, it was a heightened and stressful time for them.

 

Could you feel your parents’ fear?

 

I could always feel their fear, very definitely. I could feel their disappointment. But I never felt their despair. First of all, they were virtually in survival mode without income, working hard, and their concerns were primarily keeping alive. I mean, feeding their children, having shelter for them, sending their children with clothes to school.

 

Because those two years had been so very hard.

 

Very, very difficult years.

 

But you’d think they’d say, Oh, now what? How can this get worse? But you said they didn’t feel this way.

 

Well, when that notice came, they weren’t prepared to abandon the farm. Even through Pearl Harbor and all, they had worked dawn to dusk, tried to keep up the farm, not knowing what’s going to happen. But when that notice appeared on that telephone pole, they realized that this was it, there’s no alternative, they’ve got to leave the farm.

 

It was a heartbreaking decision. Takeshi Yoshihara’s father found a friend from church who agreed to run their farm and pay off their debts. The family was then sent to a relocation camp in Portland, Oregon.

 

They had taken two – by – fours and just built cubicles throughout this large pavilion area with very high ceilings, and used canvas as a doorway for the opening. So, if one were to look upon what we called our assembly center, it would be looking down from the ceiling and seeing all the open ceiling area, but it would look like an egg crate, and you could see maybe twenty, thirty families in each. And every family was given one little cubicle.

 

Now, could you look over the wall and see the next family?

 

If we stood on our beds, we could look over the family and see them fighting or having a good time, or whatever.

 

So, there was no audio privacy, no visual privacy if anyone who wanted to look.

 

That’s right. And especially in a situation like that, it would be surprising how noisy the night times were. All kinds of noises; people arguing, playing, that sort of thing. So, it was very … there was not much privacy. Then they had an area where we lined up to eat in shifts on picnic benches. But it was supposedly for a short time, so we endured it. The worst part was, right next to this exposition center was large stock butchering facility. Just next to it.

 

In operation?

 

In operation.

 

A slaughterhouse?

 

Slaughterhouse; that’s the word I’m thinking about, a slaughterhouse. And we could sense the effects of all the slaughters going on, especially when the wind blew in our direction. It was almost nauseating; it was so bad. And that was combined with one of the hottest summers in Portland. And Portland can get very hot and humid, and without ventilation, it was just suffocating. The authorities were telling us, Well, we’re putting you in here to protect you. And some of the in — I say inmates, but internees [CHUCKLE] looked up and said, How come the rifles are pointing at us instead of the other way if they’re protecting us? So, they changed the name assembly center, I don’t know if for that reason, but we never used it again. It became a relocation center.

 

Relocation; when we say that today or we say internment camps, there’s a significant minority of people who will correct you and say, You know what, let’s call it for what it is, that’s a euphemism, it was a concentration camp. What’s your feeling about that terminology?

 

I’ve looked up the word concentration camps, and technically, concentration camps is correct. As I understand, concentration camps is a place where people are imprisoned, not because of what they do, like crimes, but because who they are. And we, of course, were all homogeneous Japanese blood. So, in that sense, concentration camp is the correct term. But from my own perspective, and my deep appreciation for my country and what it has meant to me, I hesitate, because if I were to say it, I would feel like I’m getting close to a Nazi concentration camp. We were not treated unfairly. There was a lot of compassion, understanding by the authorities.

 

So, day – by – day, you were treated well, but did you think it was the right thing to do to bring people together like that, for that reason?

 

As a youngster, I didn’t think much about that. My parents didn’t really think much about that, because, here again, it’s the perspective of my family who were really in survival mode, being relieved in a sense. Have all our meals provided, have a good roof over us. So, the word they used so often was “shikata ga nai”, which means, it can’t be helped. And that was their attitude.

 

So, accept it.

 

To accept it, and do the best they can with it.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara and his family stayed at the relocation camp in Portland for four months. By then, they were ready to leave because of the stench and cramped conditions. This time, the family was forced to take a train to a more permanent internment camp in Idaho called Minidoka.

 

They had built this camp for ten thousand people to house them with all the facilities, all the utilities, and the main buildings were like Army barracks. They were very, very hastily constructed of wood framing, and covered with black tar paper. You could almost see holes through some of our walls. The floors were bare wood panels, and a little potbelly stove sat in the middle of the room to provide heat. So, when we got there, I remember we were issued canva — I guess they call them ticking, where you stuff straw in to make mattresses out of. And we were all given a satchel bag and taken to a place with a big pile of straw, and made our own mattress and returned to our assigned rooms, where there was a canvas cot. And that was our house for the next three years.

 

One room for a family of eight?

 

No; I think it was family of six children and below, it was one family; one room per family. We had eight children, and we just couldn’t physically fit into one – family, so we were given two families. And I think we were kind of the privileged families in the camp, because we had two. Everybody we knew had one room, and we had two rooms, and so my parents lined up … let’s see, seven cots in this one row for all my brothers and sisters. And they had one infant, so they took the other room and put the infant with them. And no chairs, no furniture, not else; just a place to sleep.

 

And was there a cafeteria? Nobody cooked without a stove, I take it.

 

That’s right. In addition to the barracks, they had … well, the barracks were arranged in blocks for about two hundred and fifty people in a block. And within that block, they had built a central mess hall, and washing facilities, and toilet and shower facilities where we all used it together.

 

How did that work, exactly?

 

Well, as a teenager, it was one of the most sensitive time of my life, privacy especially.

 

I think you were in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades while you were in camp?

 

That’s right; sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And I remember being so shy about using the facilities, because both the showers and the toilet facilities were all lined in a row, with no partition between them.

 

Men and women in different facilities?

 

In different facilities, but —

 

But no stalls for toilets.

 

No stalls; no stalls for toilets. And so, sometimes I would get up like three o’clock in the morning, just worrying about whether anybody would be there with me. [CHUCKLE] But that never went away. I felt very, very humiliated. And I would have preferred at that time, those years, going back to that survival mode where we had an outhouse; one whole outhouse. I would rather have had that than the modern toilet facilities we had in camp.

 

What was day – to – day life like?

 

Well, I always have to compare it with how it was before. Before, we were in survival mode, working on a farm, walking to school each day. No friends; just hard work. All of a sudden, we’re in this community of ten thousand people, lots of kids my age. And it wasn’t long before the new normal took hold. And the new normal meant lots of play friends. You don’t have much to play with, but if you get a ball or football, a lot of good times. I didn’t feel like a minority in camp. The new normal took on a life of its own, because the camps were designed for all the residents to find some employment, and everybody who wanted to work found some employment. My father became a garbage collector, and my mother worked as a helping hand in the central mess hall.

 

So, the internment camp would pay federal wages?

 

I’m not sure federal wages; they got sixteen dollars a month. Doctors got nineteen dollars a month.

 

Woo – hoo. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] So they were the upper class in camp. But they were mostly paid sixteen dollars a month; that was the going rate. And that’s like fifty cents a day.

 

So, was there a Minidoka School?

 

Well, when we went there, of course, ten thousand people arrived suddenly. They had built all these barracks. The first question was, Where will be put the children in school? And the only answer was, in the barracks rooms. No blackboards, just one room. Of course, the next thing they had to do was find teachers. Where are they going to find teachers? Some were teachers already in their professions, but certainly nowhere near the number needed. So, if one had a high school diploma, he or she became eligible to teach elementary school. And I think that was the case when I first went there. A young girl, I’m sure she was just a high school graduate, but taught, and taught very well. And I don’t regret in any way the quality of the education I received, even under those circumstances.

 

When the war ended in 1945, Takeshi Yoshihara’s family was grateful they were finally leaving the internment camp, but also anxious. They’d lost everything before, and once again, they had to start over and create a new life from scratch.

 

With my family of eight children, that was an army to take care of, and I know my parents worried a lot about it, where should they go. But one day, they heard from a church in Seattle that offered to make their basement spaces available for us, and they would take care of us and shelter us, and feed us until something better came along. So, we happily accepted. That resolved my parents’ survivor fears, I should say. And, so they accepted, and everybody received a train ticket or bus ticket, and twenty – five dollars per person spending money.

 

Even your infant brother?

 

Absolutely everybody; everybody that breathed got twenty-five dollars. Which we thought was very generous at that time. And so, with that, I forget, I think we took a train to Seattle, and the people at the church were there to greet us and to take us to their church. And it was a wonderful beginning, and I consider it a blessing from God that He interceded and found a place where we could start a new beginning.

 

A month later, the Yoshihara family found a place to live in Renton, Washington. And though there was anti – Japanese sentiment in the post – war United States, Takeshi says the family never felt discriminated against, not by neighbors or his classmates when he started high school.

 

How was your first day in school?

 

First day in school; well, of course, I had a lot of reservations walking into that school. But, I think the principal and the superintendent, and the authorities had done a marvelous job preparing for my classmates to receive me. And I was just amazed at how welcoming they were to me. But all of a sudden, I was going from a place of ten thousand others that looked like me, to a place where nobody looked like me. There were only, I think, two other Asians in my high school class; everybody else was Caucasian. So, of course, I felt being a minority again, and a minority of one is a very small minority.

 

Feeling as though he didn’t quite fit in, Takeshi Yoshihara struggled to make friends in high school. Without much of a social life, he focused on academics, and that paid off. After graduation, he would go on to become the first Japanese American admitted into the U.S. Naval Academy, and have a successful career in the U.S. Navy, where his nickname was “Tak”. Mahalo to Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara for sharing his story. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

And how was your school experience at Annapolis as the first and only Asian in the class?

 

Well, it was more than that, because here, I had come from a family … well, we were at the chopstick stage, for eating, and all of a sudden you go there. Formal dining table, linen covered white tablecloths, and all the utensils out. All of them. And I’m looking at it, and looking to the side, left and right, and figuring out what’s the proper utensil to use.

 

You didn’t have computers in those days, so you couldn’t do a Wiki How. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right.

 

Which one is which?

 

That’s right.

 

 

 

 

Part 2: An Historic Journey

 

Have I experienced failure? Many times. Have I stumbled along the way? Many times. Have I faced dead ends during my career? Certainly.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara is a humble man who holds a special place in history. After growing up in poverty and spending three years in a Japanese American internment camp, he was chosen to do something no Japanese American had ever done before. Takeshi Yoshihara, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Takeshi Yoshihara’s childhood on the West Coast was not easy. His parents lost everything in the Depression, and again during World War II. At one point, he and his family of eight lived in a leaky shack without electricity. Despite his hardships, Yoshihara persevered and made history just out of high school. His journey started in 1949, with an invitation from a member of Congress; a letter that this self – described loner never expected to receive.

 

If I had my choice, I would have picked anybody but myself. And I’ll tell you why. Here I was, such an introvert; I lived my own life, I was not socially aware. On the other hand, those attending the Naval Academy, I think ninety percent were varsity athletes, they had letters or stripes on their sweaters, and they were class presidents and Eagle Scouts. And the only thing on my resume, aside from my grades, was the fact that one semester during lunch, I volunteered to be –they called it a patrolman. So, I got to wear the belt, and during lunch hour, I stood at the crosswalk to let students cross. And for that, I got a certificate, which is the only recognition that I had ever received in high school. But the congressman wrote me this letter saying, You have done very well in the competitive examination, I’m considering appointing you to the Naval Academy, but don’t say anything about it, because I have some policy issues to address before you’re notified. So, we agreed to that announcement as an opportunity. For me, it was that or nothing. I’d tried for scholarships; nothing came along, and I was resigned, as so many of us in those days, to find a job probably in gardening and earn some money for the family. So, this was my only chance. And what a wonderful chance, I thought, because they won’t charge you tuition, they won’t charge you for your food or for your room. In fact, they would pay you to go to school. And accepting it was beyond my dreams. And so, we waited, and sure enough, a month later came and he sent another letter saying, You are appointed to the Naval Academy.

 

It was a big deal. Takeshi Yoshihara was the first Japanese American appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy. However, Takeshi was worried he’d never spend a day in class for several reasons. For one, he’d have to pay his own way across country from Washington State to Annapolis, Maryland, and he feared he would not pass the physical exam.

 

Well, I had been wearing these glasses since freshman in high school.

 

That’s what you were worried about; your eyesight.

 

I was worried; very worried. Because that was the leading cause of people being disqualified in the physical.

 

Ah …

 

What I did was, I just prayed to God that He would heal me, and I just took off my glasses and for the last few months, the strength of my eyes, I think [CHUCKLES] …

 

Wow.

 

The other thing, of course, is, I got sick on anything that moved, whether in a car or a bus. I’d never been on a boat, but I can imagine being on a boat.

 

So, you were a seasick person applying for the Naval Academy.

 

That’s right. And I had deep reservations about that; very deep reservations. Yes.

 

That’s a lot of reasons not to do it, isn’t it? I mean, you have find you way for free, you were broke.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

You didn’t have the eyesight.

 

That’s right.

 

But you did it anyway.

 

Well, we had a family debate about that. And my older sister was a strong advocate, because she had a lot of fears about me, I guess, not being able to survive in that environment in the first place. So, she was the one that said, You must get a roundtrip ticket, because it’s cheaper, and will make sure you get home. But my argument made out that I’m just trusting God; He’ll find other ways for me to get back, and this is my step of faith to just buy a one – way ticket. So, that sounded good to the rest of the family. [CHUCKLE] So, I appeared before the physical, would you know it, the first question on this long list of do you or do not things, have you had this illness or that illness; the first question is, Do you have a serious problem with seasickness?

 

And your problem was serious; right? I mean, you got sick in cars.

 

I got sick in cars.

 

Yeah.

 

I paused a long time, and I think I answered all the other questions to come to that. And I decided, well, for one thing, I want to be truthful. I don’t want to say no, and they find out a month later that I should have checked yes. And besides, the good Lord’s gonna carry me through whatever direction He wants anyway, and if this isn’t for me, there’s something else for me. I felt that faith. And so, I checked, yes.

 

You do get seasick?

 

I get seasick. And as far as my eye examination, I think it was at the end of a hectic day for the medical technicians, and I think they just kinda waved me through.

 

And so, Takeshi Yoshihara became the first Japanese American sworn in as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. His nickname, Tak. As part of his studies, he had to spend two summers on a ship; he did, in fact, get seasick. He was so violently ill on his second tour that he almost got kicked out of school.

 

Well, the saying goes, when you get sick, you’re afraid you’re gonna die, then you get so sick so you’re afraid you’re not going to die. And I was in that latter stage for three weeks coming back. I wished I could jump over the rail and just end it all, because it was that bad. But when I got back in the fall, the authorities convened the board, and they said, Reports are that you’re unfit for the Navy, and we’re going to discharge you now, and will not let you permit to go any further, you will not graduate with your class, and you’ll be just discharged. And I agreed with everything they said, except I said, Well, if you look at my records, my very first physical questionnaire and every subsequent one for four years, I put what I honestly thought I was, which is seasick, and nobody questioned me about that. And I think that took them aback a little bit, and they checked it, and they called me back and said, You know, you’re right, we should have kicked you out before you entered. But now that you’re in, we’re gonna make sure that we give you the opportunity to graduate. You’ll get your diploma, but you will not get a commission to be an officer in the United States Navy.

 

How was your school experience in Annapolis as the first and only Asian in the class?

 

Well, it was more than that, because here, I had come from a family… well, we were at the chopstick stage, for eating, and all of a sudden you go there; formal dining table, linen covered white tablecloths, and all the utensils out. All of them. And I’m looking at it, and looking to the side, left and right, and figuring out what’s the proper utensil to use.

 

You didn’t have computers in those days, so you couldn’t do a Wiki – how [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right.

 

Which one is which?

 

That’s right. And that went with so many other things. I never really learned how to Make a tie, for example. We had to wear neckties a lot. And all those other things I had to learn.

 

The things that were common to the other kids who were kind of BMOCs, big man on campus in their hometowns.

 

That’s right; that’s right. So, I think that’s part of the wisdom of the Naval Academy, that they never let you be assigned into a single room. They know that you could get help from your classmates and your roommates, and I think that’s a good way that they have there. So, I always had classmates or roommates throughout my four years, and I think that was a good experience.

 

And they mentored you, to an extent?

 

Oh, yes. We just became best friends. But being plebes — we were called plebes as soon as we were … as we took the oath of office as a midshipman, which all students at the Naval Academy are called. It was a shock and awe experience, because what they do is, they immediately do everything to strip you of any of your personal habits, personal ways. What they want to create is an empty bowl in which they start building up your character, your personality, your habits, things like that. So, I think maybe some of these hard football programs when they go out to football camp, they may face that kind of circumstance too, where they want to break you down, then build you up. And that was called Plebe Summer, and for seventeen hours a day, for six weeks, the one single thing you have is pressure. Physical pressure, mental pressure, moral pressures.

 

And the pressure, you mean to say, it was never racial discrimination?

 

I never experienced racial discrimination.

 

Even right after the war like this?

 

That’s right. I experienced a lot of mischievous tricks, but never racially motivated.

 

Eighteen – year – old Tak Yoshihara adapted to life in the Academy. In the beginning, he struggled to stand out in a very competitive field.

 

You wouldn’t believe how competitive in those days the Naval Academy was. It was important whether you stood tenth, or twelfth, or a hundred or five hundred. And we started out with twelve hundred. Everything was based on competition. It’s changed a great deal now, but back in 1949, your class standing was the most important thing, and it was cumulative over four years. And there were people in my class that were repeating classes that they had taken. My best friend at our wedding, who lives here, he had already graduated from Yale in engineering. I don’t know why he wanted to start all over again, but he was taking the exact same class in engineering. So, he played Bridge most of the time. But, here I was struggling, thinking I might what they called bilge out, which is flunk out, which many did. But, I loved academics, and that was my source of self – esteem in high school. My only source of self – esteem was to get good grades, and so, I worked twice as hard as anybody else, and I’d take home my grades, and my parents would be happy for me, and I would feel built up.

 

So, you had the discipline.

 

I made the discipline, because that was a good source for building up my own self – esteem, when I had nothing. And so, I carried that through the Academy, and I kept plugging away, and plugging away, and plugging away. And I’d start climbing up the ladder, so to speak, in my class standing. But then, every week, you knew where you stood. You took a quiz in every class every week, and on Saturday morning they’d put your results on a board in numerical order. So it was very, very competitive.

 

Did you enjoy that competition, the academic competition?

 

I don’t think anybody really enjoyed that competition. And I might say there was one exception. Everybody took the identical course, except we had a choice in language. And, we had a choice of French, German, or Russian. I chose Russian, because I knew everybody had taken French or German in high school, and I wanted a level playing field. And sure enough, nobody had taken Russian before, so that was my entry into foreign languages. But everything else identical course, identical exam, and then at the end of the week, you knew where you stood.

 

Well, from twelve hundred with whom you started, how many ended?

 

Nine hundred and twelve. And they left for a number of reasons. Just the environment was not good for some, and academics were not good for some. So, I don’t know why they left, but there was about a thirty percent reduction in attrition.

 

So, that must have been some day when you graduated.

 

Yes.

 

How did you celebrate?

 

Got married two hours after graduation.

 

So, you were busy with something other than Annapolis?

 

[CHUCKLE] I was very busy with my studies, but along the way, I met my wife Elva, and just fell in love with her. She had gone to a college in Boston, and transferred to Johns Hopkins University to get her bachelor’s degree in nursing. And she graduated at about the same time that I did from the Naval Academy, so we were both wondering where we’re going after we graduate. Of course, I was in the Navy, and not a place that she would travel to, I’m sure, so we decided best that we get married, and that’s what happened. [CHUCKLE]

 

The year was 1953; and while Tak Yoshihara was a newlywed, he thought his chance at a career in the U.S. Navy was over, until, one of his instructors at the Academy stepped forward.

 

He was an officer at the Academy who had been grievously injured during the Pearl Harbor attack or the Japanese attacked on his ship, on his battleship. And he had come from three generations of admiral, and he had every expectation to succeed as part of his family tradition. Well, I didn’t know him well; I just took one lecture from him, but he heard about it. Well, as a result of Pearl Harbor, he had lost his leg and he was the only officer on campus walking with a wooden leg in uniform. So, they had made an exception for him. And he contacted me and said, I know a remote part of the Navy you’ve never heard about where officers never need to go to sea, and I just want to know if you’re interested in serving in the Navy. Well, I jumped at that, because it would have been a shame for me to complete Annapolis and be reported that I was discharged for being unfit for service in the Navy. So, I jumped at that, and within a matter of a week or so, he had gone to Washington, D.C. and had a waiver prepared for me so that I could ultimately join what was called the Civil Engineer Corps in the Navy.

 

But first, you had to get a civil engineering degree?

 

Yes; that meant I had to wait a year, and I would be sent to a very nice school called Rensselaer Institute of Polytechnics, a private college in Upstate New York, where I got my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and then I received my civil engineering degree and became officially a part of this navy that I knew nothing about.

 

And what did you do as a civil engineer in the Navy?

 

Well, first of all, I had like ten different stations. [CHUCKLE] But my first trip was out to Midway Island. From New York, traveled.

 

So, definitely not the cushy first station; right?

 

No.

 

With the atoll. [CHUCKLE]

 

It was middle of the Pacific. You’ve heard of Midway Island.

 

Gooney bird central.

 

It’s only one mile by two miles. And when I got there, Elva was pregnant, and the day our son arrived …

 

Did Elva give birth on Midway?

 

Yes. She was the first one that year to give birth on Midway; it was in March. And it coincided in 1957, when a tsunami hit the Pacific that very night.

 

Oh!

 

So, she gave birth while I was out clearing out the airfield which had been inundated with trash and everything else. And so, we have memories of our little time in Midway together. [CHUCKLE]

 

You know, nothing you’ve described has been really easy so far in your whole life.

 

Well, no, I thought it was not that difficult. From Midway, I went to Las Vegas, and nobody knows that there’s a naval base in Las Vegas.

 

Who would think a landlocked state, right?

 

They don’t now; they did it for a very short time, and I happened to be along when they needed somebody to be in Las Vegas. So, I had an interesting career there. But the rest of my career was more peanut butter type things, where I built things, and took care of the sewage and the roads, and everything else, interspersed by opportunities for education. And that’s what I loved so much to do from way back. That was a passion for me that I developed in high school. I always had a passion for education; still do.

 

That passion for education drove Tak Yoshihara to get two master’s degrees, and a PhD, while serving in the U.S. Navy where he rose to the rank of Captain. At one point, he was sent to Vietnam, where he was the deputy in charge of construction for all U.S. military services. He helped build ports, runways, and barracks during the war.

 

Periodically, the Navy … I think it’s kind of a carrot – and – stick approach. When you get to the point where you’ve completed your obligated service, or thinking about leaving and maybe going to school, or getting a job somewhere, they’d put this carrot out and say, If you’re interested in graduate school, we’ve got a few openings and you’re welcome to apply. And so, you can understand how grateful I am, how the Navy changed my life. Here, I may have been a laborer as a gardener following in my father’s footstep, or being here in Honolulu, living in paradise. So, I credit a great deal to the wonderful, wonderful government that I’m so proud of.

 

Somehow, I just don’t picture you ordering people around.

 

Well, I don’t either. I would have never thought … entering the Navy in any form, whether it’s the lowest enlisted man or anybody, being able to get up and shout, Don’t give up the Navy, or Don’t sink the Navy, or these famous sayings that thank God, I’ve never been in that position to do so.

 

But you’ve led men.

 

Yes.

 

And later, women.

 

My styles have been very different, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

 

Well, what was your military style, your naval style?

 

Well, I like to say that whenever I had people under me, I never forgot my roots. I wanted to be an encourager. I try to find ways for people to realize their hopes and dreams. I was a helper, and a leader can be a helper.

 

In 1974, after twenty – five years in the Navy, Takeshi Yoshihara retired and moved to his wife’s hometown here in Hawaii. Soon after, he took a job working for Hawaii U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga.

 

I worked for him; I agreed to help him for two years. Elva was teaching at the Kapiolani Community College, so I felt I could take off two years, and they were one of the most wonderful years of my life. A senator who is one of one hundred most powerful people in the country, being senators, and I saw the world in a different light from power; the power that they have.

 

Did that necessitate a move to D.C.?

 

I moved to D.C. We kept our house, and Elva took her second year of teaching as a sabbatical, and so, we lived the second year in Washington, D.C. Had a marvelous time. Going to that capitol every day, and just being in awe of all the senators and congressmen, and hearing them speak, and that sort of thing. It was a wonderful experience.

 

There you are, back to government service. Did you do other government service?

 

Well, I returned, and the federal government established and wanted me to head a Federal Energy Office out of the Federal Building here, which I agreed to do, and it covered the entire Pacific. I did that for three years, and through Governor Ariyoshi, I got the privilege of starting the first State Energy Office in the State. I did that, and then I later worked for Governor Waihee. Both governors were wonderful people.

 

Throughout Tak Yoshihara’s life of ups and downs, his love for his country and his faith in God never wavered.

 

Very much so, Leslie. I’m glad you mentioned that. Because, how can a family of eight children be so blessed.

 

In the Depression, during a world war.

 

We’re still all alive; all eight of us, from eighty – eight to seventy. And our closeness is as tight as can be; and it’s because of one thing, God at the center of each of our lives. Have I experienced failure? Many times. Have I stumbled along the way? Many times. Have I faced dead ends during my career? Certainly. Well, what got me through is, in every case I had stretcher bearers, beginning with God maybe sending people on the way. They could have been friends, family certainly, people praying for me. God has given me the opportunity that I’ve sometimes taken, where I could pray for others, where I could, in raising my children act as a stretcher bearer in their growing up. And then, when I took command or supervised people that I had to lead, I could be a stretcher bearer for them. I could inspire them, I could encourage them, I could hope to see them fulfill their aspirations; and to that extent, I was a stretcher bearer. So, we can all identify, if we’ve gone through life’s trials and triumphs, as both being a patient as well as a stretcher bearer. And we’re blessed.

 

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara watched his younger son follow in his footsteps. David Yoshihara also graduated from the Naval Academy and also became a Captain in the U.S. Navy. And just before our conversation in 2013, Tak and his wife Elva happily celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Mahalo to Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara, the first Japanese American ever appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy and a career naval officer. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Does Elva speak Pidgin at all?

 

No, she does not at all. I mean, she’s third generation, so her parents were like me; they spoke English. So, she never spoke Japanese or Pidgin. She grew up in this area, and I think she understands pidgin.

 

I’m sure she does.

 

Well, yeah, we all do to a certain extent. I love Frank DeLima.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I can understand him. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

 

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