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    A Wildcat's Inspiration: The Tanouye Family Legacy

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    Editor's Note: In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, is proud to present the story of Isao Tanouye and his family. Isao is the grandfather of Northwestern sophomore softball standout Marisa Bast and the brother of Ted Tanouye, a World War II Distinguished Service Cross and, posthumously, Medal of Honor recipient. As told by Special Contributor Skip Myslenski, this story begins several generations ago and is an important chapter in the history of our country.

    At 1 p.m. CT Saturday, May 12, at the same time as first pitch of Northwestern softball's Senior Day game against Illinois at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, The Pritzker Military Museum in Chicago will be showing the film "Citizen Tanouye," an award-winner documentary about Ted Tanouye produced in 2005 by students at Tanouye's alma mater Torrance High School in Torrance, Calif. Mr. Enoch Kanaya, veteran of F Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Commander for the American Legion Chicago Nisei Post 1183, will speak during a Q&A after the screening. For more information, visit and


    His name was S. Nakata and he was nothing but an innocent California fisherman when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. But later, after hysteria put a hammerlock on this country and Franklin Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority, he was considered a spy, and so one night the Military Police knocked on his door, gave him 30 minutes to collect his belongings, ripped him from his family (which itself would be interned in Manzanar, Calif.) and sent him off for incarceration in a camp in the Dakotas.


    His name was Ted Tanouye and he was a 22-year old produce retailer at Ray's Friendly Market in Torrance, Calif., when the United States finally entered the Second World War. Three months later, in February of 1942, he was inducted into the Army at Fort MacArthur in California, and that finally delivered him to a hill near Molino A Ventoabbto, Italy on July 7, 1944. It was there that Tanouye, a technical sergeant now, ignored his severely wounded left arm, took out a pair of German machine gun crews and led the effort that secured a crest that was strategically important to the Allies' effort.


    His name is Isao Tanouye and he was the 14-year old younger brother of Ted back when so many felt anyone of Japanese heritage was suspect, was suspicious, was a possible enemy of the state. So the MPs finally appeared at his family's house as well and, after it pulled its belongings together, he and his mom and his dad and his siblings were bussed to the race track called Santa Anita, where they slept in horse stalls for the next night or two. Then, by both bus and rail, they were taken to the Jerome Internment Camp that straddled the Arkansas counties of Drew and Chicot.


    Her name is Marisa Bast and, as the 'Cat softball team prepares to face Illinois this weekend in its final home games of the season, she is hitting a robust .418 with 13 home runs. She is also the granddaughter of Isao Tanouye, the grand-niece of the late Ted Tanouye, the great-granddaughter of the late S. Nakata. "Whether I think about it everyday, I don't. I have to be honest and say I don't," she will say at one point when asked if she reflects on her family's history. "But when I do, I take a step back and think of all the things I should really be thankful for. I'm not here because of me. I'm here because of all the people who came before me."


    Does that serve as motivation?


    "It does. And it's inspirational. And it teaches me to be a better person and be strong. Because he (her grandfather) was strong, and my family is strong. So it gives me strength."


    Does she ever tell that to her grandfather?


    "I have talked to him more now that I'm in college about things like that, and he always tells me I'm just a remarkable person, a smart, smart young lady. To hear that from him, I think he's the smartest person in our family, by far. He's brilliant."


    * * *


    Eventually, through those years of war, some 120,000 Japanese-Americans (64 percent of whom were U.S. citizens) would be forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in camps that spread from California to Arkansas (one of them was a boy named George Takei, who would later gain fame as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television series). It was a shameful episode in this country's history, yet later -- after he returned to Torrance and married and fought in the Korean War and was raising a family -- Isao Tanouye rarely spoke of his experience and never exhibited bitterness over it. "The second generation, the Nisei generation, very quiet," explains Patti Bast, his daughter and the mother of Marisa. "They really don't talk much about the past and especially, in their minds, war's war. So they knew the country, America's their country, so they're going to obey what the American government tells them to do. The third generation, me, the fourth generation, we wouldn't be as tolerant as that, let's put it that way. . . But they didn't talk of any injustice at all. They just talked about what they were supposed to do in terms of duty to their country."


    * * *


    Finally, 56 years later, Ted Tanouye was granted the honor he had long deserved.  He had received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Italy on Hill 140; had survived the wounds he had incurred there to fight on even more; had lived until shrapnel from a land mine tore through him three months after his heroics, but it was only now, in June of 2000, that President Bill Clinton awarded him this nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. That is why the Basts found themselves in Washington that year and why young Marisa, just seven at the time, was able to frolic in the White House. "I got to sit on Bill Clinton's lap and I just remember him being really tall," she now remembers with a smile. "I didn't even realize I was talking to the President of the United States. It's mind-boggling to me even now that I had an opportunity to shake his hand. I wish I was older (then), I'd say. But it was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything."


    * * *


    It is a Monday in May, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and Patti and Marisa Bast are seated next to each other in a snug office in Anderson Hall. The mother and her husband, Californians both and both retired, have through the years attended all of their daughter's many games, and so are living in Evanston until this softball season ends. The daughter, a sophomore, laughs when asked about her parents' proximity and then she says, "I've got to be honest. At first I was like, 'I wanted to go away.' It wasn't ever that I wanted to get away from my parents. I wanted to try something different and to be in a big city that was not Los Angeles. Then I talked to a couple of seniors here and they said, 'If your parents can be here, you're going to want them here.' I couldn't even imagine my parents not being at a game. They never missed one I played. They drove me everywhere when I didn't have my license. I was thinking, 'I don't know what I'm going to do if I have to call you and tell you about everything.'"


    "We wouldn't know what to do," the mother now interjects with a laugh of her own.


    "They'd be freaking out," rejoins the daughter. "Gametracker's just not good enough. Not good enough."


    "Exactly," agrees the mother.


    "It's awesome that I get to see them when I want to," the daughter continues now. "But they also respect that I have my life here with my friends and school is obviously very challenging. But if I do have free time, I can spend it with them. I mean, I'm only here for two-and-a-quarter more years and then who knows what. That's what we talk about all the time. You have to cherish these moments I have with them."


    It is clear, visiting with this pair, that family is more than just a word to the Basts, and that this family has a history unlike most others. We wonder, then, why they feel it is important to remember the story of S. Nakata, the story of Ted Tanouye, the story of Isao Tanouye, the story of relocation and incarceration and that low moment in this country's history. Patti Bast, the mother, thinks for long seconds. "Well, a couple of things," she finally says. "One is, people take it for granted, in terms of what they enjoy today in life. There's more of a distance in terms of trying to understand, or of trying to relate to actually what went on at that time and what people were fighting for. That's one thing. I hope people don't forget. It's important people do remember in order to learn from the past and hopefully make something good of it in the future so the same mistakes aren't made. Though history shows that human nature is not very good, they have a short-term memory, let's put it that way. You pray for man to learn, but sometimes they have a short memory. But you can always hope for the best. You hope for the best and you hope for mankind to learn something from it so bad things happening to others isn't repeated again.


    "The second reason it's important to remember is it's part of our history, our personal history. The sacrifices made by the grandparents coming over to make a living, to them being in an internment camp, to our parents working very hard to provide us with a college education so future generations could make something good and be valuable and contributing members of society. So I think it's important that way. You've just not been given it. There's actually a thread that you come from and it's important you continue on with that."


    We look at Marisa now and recall a conversation we once had with the late Arthur Ashe, who was then writing a history of the African-American athlete in the United States. When we asked him why he had undertaken the endeavor, he said that one reason was that the 16-year olds of that day didn't even know who Jackie Robinson was. Can she relate to that and to what her mother had said, we then ask.


    "I can," she quickly says. "Especially in my generation, I feel we don't have a good concept of what happened in the past. We just know, yeah, there was world war this, world war that, the Korean War. But we don't know exactly what happened, who was fighting for us. I just think it's important to know the history of America and, especially, the history of my family. Like my mom said, kids my age take for granted that we're able to grow up in this wonderful society and not have to fight if we don't want to. But they were automatically enlisted and didn't have a choice. It's humbling, and I think everyone should know about it."


    Does she ever, we then wonder, ever look around her bucolic campus and think of her grandpa in a camp and just go, "Wow"?


    "I do," Marisa Best finally says. "And my mom's a reflection of my grandpa and I'm a reflection of her. So she talked about that thread, I'm a part of that and I'm blessed and I couldn't be more thankful."




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