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such is life (a true story of love and war)

In my last post, I shared the story of a young Russian couple who were miraculously reunited after long years apart.  I thought here might be a nice place to share a similar tale, from Kuramitsu/Nakamura family lore: the story of my great uncle Clark, presented to the best of my recollection.

Sadamu “Clark” Nakamura was a college student living in Sacramento, California when he received a notice from the United States government that he had to report for “evacuation.”  In the time that followed, he lost his property, his work towards a college degree, and was illegally incarcerated in a concentration center called Tule Lake.  Not long after, desperate to prove his loyalty to a country that betrayed him, he volunteered to fight in a racially segregated combat unit that served in France, Germany, and Italy.  This unit would later become the most decorated army unit in United States military history.

this is the kind of place my uncle was shipped off to

this is the kind of american wasteland my uncle was incarcerated in

While abroad, my uncle Clark met a beautiful Italian girl.  The two of them fell in love, and he asked her to marry him, but her mother wouldn’t allow it.  However, they still remained close.  After the war ended, Clark moved back to the United States.  Not even knowing if he would have a home to return to in California (he didn’t), he gave her his family’s address in Hakalau, Hawai’i.  Over the next few years, she would write him long letters of love and longing.  However, his Japanese-speaking mother didn’t know what these letters meant, or what they were, and she squirreled them away and never told him a thing.  Clark thought of her often for a while, but eventually got married to someone else, had a family.

Tens of years later, after his mother and his first wife passed, he found these heart wrenching letters in a box in their family home.  Outraged and exhilarated, he set out on this half-cocked search for this special woman, moving towards his goal with reckless hope.

He first wrote a letter to the mayor of the town he originally met this girl in, asking about her family name and any possible news of them.  A few weeks later he got a response from a city official which said that the family moved to another town many, many years ago.  He then wrote to the mayor of that town and, after another tepid waiting period, was subsequently informed that many years ago the girl’s family moved to a little place called, oh, Rome.

Not one to give up, my uncle then wrote to the mayor of the city of Rome, explaining his entire predicament: Japanese American G.I. Stationed in Italy During WWII, Looking for Lost Love.  My family still has a copy of the story that ran on the front page of Rome’s biggest newspaper, which reprinted Clark’s petition in full and asked the public for aid in finding this girl.

Not too long afterwards, my uncle received a letter postmarked from Italy.  He opened the letter with trembling hands.  The son of the woman he had been seeking had seen the letter, and wrote to my uncle in the stead of his mother.  The young man was overjoyed at Clark’s tale, he said, but his mom had actually passed away just a couple of years ago.  She never did get to reconnect.

There’s a phrase that many folks in the Japanese American community use, especially our elders, whenever emotions run high and life becomes difficult.  Shikata ga nai.  Nothing can be done about it.  It cannot be helped.  Though my personal sense of North American individualism (and Arminian self-determination) naturally challenges this deterministic philosophy, this teaching is what has helped many members of our community get through the nastiest curveballs and trauma that life can bring us.

After he finishes telling the story, my uncle always glances downwards with a wistful look: “how she would have liked to hear from me.  How happy she would have been.”  I can’t help but thinking how happy he too, would have been.  How things might have been so different, if only he was able to recapture fate and find this woman again.  This is a pretty amazing, crushing story and people often ask to hear it, so I’ve heard it on several occasions.  Each time my uncle tells it, without fail, the tale is concluded in the same way: Clark closes his eyes and smiles tightly and says only “but such is life.”

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