"My heroes don't have anything special. They have something to tell other people but they don't know how, so they talk to themselves." -- Haruki Murakami
My parents were my very first heroes. My mother knew how to nurse me when I was sick. Her remedy was simple. A seasoned plum, a bowl of gruel, bed rest, and a lot of TLC.
My father was old-school. Patient and a man of few words. Whenever he spoke, my brothers and I listened. My parents were simple, honest, hardworking folks who wanted to give their children a better life. They fulfilled that dream.
I'm sure everyone has his or her own heroes. It's hard for me to think otherwise.
Exactly what is a hero? Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines "hero" as "a man admired by his achievement and qualities" and "one that shows great courage."
Paul D. Shafer had this to say about heroes: "The most important single influence in the life of a person is another person ... who is worthy of emulation."
I have two heroes I consider American samurai who live in Contra Costa County. They were introduced to each other at the Concord Senior Center's annual luau last year.
The two distinguished U.S. Army veterans -- a two-star general and a tech sergeant -- were in different wars, but the respect and camaraderie between them was immediate.
Dan Helix fought during the Korean War, and Shig Doi was a member of the renowned 442nd Combat Team during World War II. Here are their stories:
Dan recently completed his second term as mayor of Concord. Dan also was mayor and served on the City Council in the late '60s through mid-70s.
Dan is past president of the Rotary Club in Concord, presided over the former Mt. Diablo Hospital Foundation board, and received many accolades as co-chair of the Concord reuse committee for the closed Naval Weapons Station. Dan also served at one time as director of BART.
Dan's achievements as a scholar are noteworthy. He graduated from Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in history and also attended San Francisco State College where he earned his master's degree in political science. He graduated cum laude at both schools!
And if you didn't already know, Dan is a gifted award-winning writer. His first published work, a 294-page fictional novel titled, "The Kochi Maru Affair" should be available in local bookstores.
I'm not much for reading, but his novel kept me entertained to the very end. Pick up a copy and see ... or rather read for yourself. It's published by devil Mountain Books in Walnut Creek. A sequel should be coming out late this year.
And I've only addressed half of Dan's story.
Dan enlisted in the Army as a private in 1948 and retired as a two-star general in 1989, following an impressive career spanning 41 years.
For those unfamiliar with military grades, attaining the rank of Major General is equivalent to a copy boy of a large corporation one day becoming its CEO. I know. I once was an Army corporal.
So what are some things Dan did to warrant his meteoric rise?
In 1951, Dan was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned as a platoon leader to Korea where he distinguished himself as company commander of a rifle company and for which he earned the majority of his more than 25 medals. Among those are the Combat Infantryman Badge, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with V device for valor, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal.
He also received the Parachute Badge at age 50. Quite an accomplishment when a lot of 40-year-olds are reluctant to ride the roller coaster in Disneyland!
Dan's final military assignment was Deputy Commanding General for the 6th Army Division at the Presidio in San Francisco, and to highlight his illustrious career, he was named to the U.S. Infantry Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga.
Dan graduated from both the Army Command and General Staff College and the War College. He also served on the Board of the All Wars Memorial Foundation, the U.S. Congressional Commission considering structural changes in the Department of the Army, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Military Base Retention Commission.
At age 84, Dan still has a lot of work to do before he sits down to make retirement plans with wife Mary Lou.
My other worthy American samurai, Shig Doi, is a second-generation American of Japanese descent (hereafter referred to as "Nisei").
As a child growing up on the family farm in Auburn, Shig and his family suffered from racial bigotry as far back as he can recall. Even teachers joined in to show their disdain of their Japanese students.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Shig was inducted into the U.S. Army at a time when the government was making plans to intern 110,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast -- including his family -- in concentration camps.
To show loyalty, an overwhelming number of Nisei from Hawaii and the mainland volunteered for the Army, and a segregated unit -- the 100th Infantry Battalion/442d Regimental Combat Team -- was formed of entirely of Japanese Americans.
Shig was assigned to the 442nd Combat Team in 1944. An expert rifleman, he served in five major campaigns in Italy and France. Shig learned the meaning of "baptism by fire" when an enemy bullet whizzed by him during his first major battle.
On a later outing, he was convinced his number was up when two riflemen in front of him were felled by bullets to their heads. His life was spared. And he questioned for the longest time, "Why not me?"
After giving it much thought, he concluded that it could only be "The Man" who was looking after him -- after his eyes looked skyward.
The rescue of the 36th Texas' "Lost Battalion" in which he was involved was the bloodiest, and accomplished what two other battalions failed to do.
According to one account, approximately 700 enemy soldiers had surrounded the battalion and all efforts to rescue them failed. The one remaining hope was to deploy the 442nd Combat Team. Of major concern was the readiness of that team as they had just returned from a vigorous campaign and hoped to rest a few days.
But realizing what was at stake, they unhesitatingly jumped back into the fray.
A separate column would have to be written to adequately describe what took place. In the end, the 442nd Team succeeded after five days of intense fighting in rescuing 211 members of the Lost Battalion at the expense of suffering 800 casualties of their own. Shig was just one of eight sharpshooters in a unit that once numbered 200 to live through the ordeal.
For his heroism, Shig, then a tech sergeant, was awarded two Bronze Medals along with other service pins.
Shig discharged from the Army in 1945. But instead of coming home to a welcoming celebration, he was greeted by his family who had just been released from an internment center in Colorado where they spent the duration of the war. And the family picked up where they left off -- at their farm home in Auburn which was now covered with graffiti and riddled with bullets.
Tough? You bet. But Shig and his family had been through it all and they survived. And he remembered what his father once told him: "Out of bad, the goods will come out."
Shig and members of the 442nd Unit were invited by the citizens of Biffontaine, France, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the rescue of the Lost Battalion. Shig made the trip but said afterward that he would never return because it brought back "too many bad memories."
Since then he has had a change of heart and will return this summer accompanied by his grandson. Not bad for a young man who will turn 94 in a couple of months.
And in 2011, Shig was invited to Washington, D.C., along with other surviving members of the 442nd Combat Team to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of their exemplary service to our country.
Dan and Shig deserve the country's utmost thanks. A few might comment that World War II and the Korean conflict ended more that half a century ago, and isn't it sufficient to recognize Dan and Shig with the rest of the men and women who served on Veterans Day, the one day set aside for that purpose.
Veterans Day is celebrated only once a year. Think about it. We don't give thanks just on Thanksgiving Day nor do we practice brotherly love only at Christmastime.
So why not make it a practice to remember and thank our men and women who have dedicated their lives to protect our freedom a frequent habit. It's the least we can do.
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.