Albert Kazuyoshi Hongo, I.M.
I once saw somewhere, in a box of old financials, check stubs
and paid bills, or leaned up against a dusty mirror, amidst vials
of nail polish and mascara cluttered on my mother’s vanity
table in their bedroom, an old 8x10 p hotograph of my father
with two of his war buddies. It was a black and white studio shot
touched up so their faces looked like smooth marble, but sepia-
toned with a cast of weak coffee. They wore dress khakis,
smoothly starched shirts with campaign ribbons across their chests
and a stripe or two on their long, pressed sleeves. My father’s
bore none, but his black hair rode up like a glassy wave slicking
over one side of his head, hatless, unlike the others who wore caps.
It must’ve been when we lived in Midtown L.A., in the apartment house
with a Hawaiian name on North Kingsley Drive when I saw it.
I was six or seven, and he told me he’d been a guard at Nuremberg,
passing Lucky Strikes to S.S. officers imprisoned there
who begged for them before they went on trial.
Zigaretten, bitte, he’d say, his one phrase of German,
and he grinned when he said it, as though it were the cheesiest
joke of his life. He never told me one thing else about the war
except that he’d brought a Luger and a Leica back from there
that my mother made him sell. “She no like war souvenir,”
he said, waving his hand in dismissal. In the fall of 1987,
three years after he died, I went along to a memorial
gathering at Arlington, the National Cemetery, invited there
by my senators from Hawai‘i, themselves decorated veterans.
I stood at the top of an amphitheater and gazed down at all
the assembled of the 442nd that day, scores of old men
in their sixties and seventies, gray and shrunken in their
informal aloha clothes, their hair silver under VFW caps.
Dan Inouye, my father’s teammate from McKinley High’s
football varsity, led me down the shallow steps, saying
“There are some guys I want you to meet.” I staggered
obediently along. About halfway, a group of less than a dozen
men stood up as we approached, some reaching to take
the senator’s only hand. He slipped it free and gestured
toward me, turning. “This is Al Hongo’s boy,” he said, simply.
Then, one by one, like mourners at a funeral, each of them
shuffled up and shook my hand, some saying nothing
but looking deep into my eyes, theirs glistening in the autumn light.
One in a wheelchair backed himself out from the end of the aisle—
his hands were in dark half-gloves and I saw trousers rolled up
where his legs might’ve been. Then he pushed toward me, reaching,
his hands beckoning me to bend toward him. I did, thinking
that he might take the lei of green ti leaves from his shoulders
and place it around my neck, that I would be kissed in greeting.
But his hands reached past to my face, and I felt his free fingers
rubbing a soft arpeggio against my cheeks and the hollows above my jaw,
slow strokes as though a dirge were in their touch, cadenced and resolute.
“Your face the same as your father’s,” he said, the palms of his gloves rough
as emery against my skin. And I was made marble, wet with a shining light.
Memorial Day, 2018