War veteran spreads peace through Bonsai
Ted Tsukiyama, 95, loves Bonsai to the core. He's worked for decades spreading goodwill through the art of living trees. Tsukiyama's been honored by the Japanese government as one of the founders of the world Bonsai Friendship Federation.
HONOLULU - Ted Tsukiyama, 95, loves Bonsai to the core. He's worked for decades spreading goodwill through the art of living trees.
Tsukiyama's been honored by the Japanese government as one of the founders of the world Bonsai Friendship Federation. And he's fresh back from a trip to our nation's capital.
He was a VIP guest for the opening of the Bonsai museum at the US National Arboretum. If you know anything about bonsai, each tree tells a story and -- root structure is key. Get to know Tsukiyama, and you quickly understand his root structure and how one of the deepest cuts of wartime pierced his heart.
"You are rejected. Here you are an American, and yet in effect you are told you are not, you can’t be trusted," Tsukiyama said.
Tsukiyama remembers waking up to the sounds and scenes of war.
"There was a constant roar of gunfire. It was all black, black smoke from the battleships that had been hit," Tsukiyama said.
Then came the call to arms. As a cadet with the University of Hawaii, he was immediately tapped to serve.
"We were told that Japanese paratroopers landed on St Louis and we were sent to the bottom of the hill to stop their advance into the city," recalled Tsukiyama.
His pours over his photo albums and the memories come flooding back. His unit would become the Hawaii Territorial Guard, and then the Varsity Victory Volunteers, but the experience of having his loyalty challenged because of his race, is a scar that really hasn't healed.
"The orders came from the Pentagon to dismiss all the Nisei and that was, I still say, the lowest point of my life," said Tsukiyama.
Tsukiyama got past the pain of that time when he was tapped to be a part of the now famed 442 Battalion, the most decorated unit of their time.
And then came the call to be part of another elite- the Military Intelligence Service.
Those early experiences would provide the base for his life, his scars, his strength. There's some regret too-- -that he didn't advance further in his military career.
"That was one of my biggest disappointments of my life I got stuck in the signal corps," what I was doing--eavesdropping Japanese fighter planes communications-- was a voice interceptor," said Tsukiyama.
"I was stuck there, frozen so I never got higher than three stripes.
But he went on on to get his law degree from Yale, and had a distinguished career as an arbitrator. Along the way, his passion for bonsai provided the balance and canopy for his extraordinary long life.
Bonsai is still his touchstone. At a recent Pacific Bonsai Club meeting, other Bonsai enthusiasts take on the work of pruning and shaping. Tsukiyama can now sit back, as others bow to his life's landscape shaped by war memories.