Gathering Place

Arnold Van Fossen

A day is made brighter
by unabashed patriotism

The other morning I was at Kaiser hospital for an MRI. Then I got to enjoy a real treat -- the traffic back into downtown. The gods, however, took pity and were kind; the Likelike exit was vacant, so we went to the Liliha Bakery for a treat. Most of the time one has to stand in line there for some of the best pancakes in the world, but it is worth the trouble. Today it was more than worth the trouble.

Hiroshi Arisumi of Kula, Maui, walks back to a waiting bus after the 442nd Veterans Club 60th reunion memorial service at Punchbowl.

An elderly man who had just finished eating got up from his seat and offered it to my cousin. When he stood up, I noticed that his white shirt had a number of military-type patches and his chest was ablaze with military ribbons and metals. I told him that he had certainly brightened up Liliha Bakery that morning. He smiled and said something I did not catch.

As he moved past me, he said he was proud to be an American and to serve his commander, George W. Bush. I said I was proud that he was so proud. We both smiled, shook hands and he left.

He came back into the restaurant almost immediately, holding against his chest an 8x10-inch, framed color portrait of President Bush. The elderly Japanese-American hero smiled and said, "I am proud to be an American and proud to serve George W. Bush."

He left. I ate a batch of pancakes. When I got home an hour later, I realized that this man exemplified what being an American is all about. Many Americans begin life in a foreign country and want freedom. This American began life in Hawaii and wanted the American dream of freedom, and he and his buddies took on the Axis of Germany, Italy and Japan to prove that they were worthy.

They were more than worthy. Their courage, ethics and morality proved how wrong a government can be. While today we see a war more as a soap opera in half-hour segments; 60 years ago, this old man and his friends gave their all to ensure that all Americans would have a chance at the dream.

I was lucky that morning. Self-pity and worry were removed by a chance meeting of a real live hero with a uniform every bit as grand as Spiderman's. The fact that he carries with him a colored, framed portrait of the president of the United States may prove laughable to some people. But this man wears his heart and his patriotism on the patches on his sleeves and on the fruit salad of metals on his chest. He made me proud of who I am and brightened my day -- not an easy chore these days.

If I see him again, I am afraid that I shall have to wear my feelings on my sleeve. The man deserves a hug and I shall have to buy him at least a breakfast.

Surviving members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team gathered last Saturday for a memorial service at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl to mark the team's 60th anniversary.

Arnold Van Fossen, a retired magazine promotion manager, lives in Waikiki.

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