Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Search for Peace

The California Angels played a three game series with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore this past week. While the Orioles are an unremarkable team this year, in last place in the American League Eastern Division, the Angels continue to rise from the ashes of the early summer and remain in front of the Texas Rangers in the race for a Division Championship.

What made the series more memorable than the Angels winning it was a visitor to the clubhouse, Jim Adenhart.

There are stories that make headlines and then are gone as are the people about whom they are told. They affect for the moment. Others have reminders and affect a group of people for a long time. The story of Nick and Jim Adenhart is one of those.

Some may remember the story of Nick Adenhart, chronicled in many places as well as here:
http://amusingreamus.blogspot.com/2009/04/prayer-for-jim-adenhart.html#comments. Jim’s son Nick was in an automobile accident with two friends several hours after pitching his first win of the season in April, the second of his young, major league life, and likely cementing a place in the starting rotation for the only organization for which he ever played. Before morning he was dead. So were two of his close friends. A third, a promising young college catcher, was so badly injured he will never play the game he loves so much again.

This weekend, Jim spent an hour or more with the Angel players and coaches. He continues to heal after four months after the loss of his son. Jim still lives in Hagerstown where Nick grew up in Maryland and while he still grieves for his son in his own private way, he saw the same in the team this week. It is the first time since the spring that he has seen them and the first time he has talked extensively about Nick and how he has coped with his loss.

Baseball is business. A place where players are bought and sold for the only purpose the teams exist: Winning. Yet somehow this is different. It is the death of a son, a co-worker, a friend. The Angel players and front office people, too still grieve for Nick. His picture, name, and number are on the outfield fence in Angel Stadium. It is common for players on the way to the bullpen to pat it for luck, or for an outfielder to write his name in the dirt of the warning track in front of it before taking up his position before the game begins. Nick’s locker is as he left it that night in April in the home clubhouse

The Adenharts were by no means a nuclear family. Jim and Nick’s mother Janet are divorced and Nick was Jim’s reason to exist for the past few years. He was invited to the game by Mike Scioscia, the Angel manager and the coaches and players who have kept in touch with him through these four months of what Jim readily admits have been torment. Jim copes with that by going to bereavement counseling and in the four months since it happened reading several books about the grieving process. He says that now and then he feels he has a handle on it but then something comes back from nowhere and sets him back again. This month it is the dreams that started a month ago and always it is the heartache that does not want to leave him. Jim knows there is no blueprint on how to deal with this. He is making his own way, but he is pleased by how much the Angel personnel have made it easier for him. He admits that when he walked into the clubhouse on Sunday he was taken aback to see his son’s locker and uniform shirt at first yet it helped Jim said, when he learned that the equipment managers still designate one in every visitors clubhouse as well. A road uniform, with Nick’s name and the number 34 on it, hangs in it as if awaiting his return. He appreciates how much it means to have the support of the players that knew him and the coaches who made it possible for Nick to dream and then succeed. He believes in the end, it is good that they are keeping his memory alive.

In those horrible hours after “the call” came to his hotel, two men stayed with Jim until he was ready to go home. Jim Butcher, the Angel’s pitching coach and Tim Mead, the vice president of communications are still in touch with him on a weekly basis. They have been super, Jim says, especially since he knows how much they have to think about besides him. They were in the waiting room when the surgeons gave him the news. They were there for support. They were there at the beginning and they still are.

After Nick’s death, the team suffered a series of injuries that left them reeling. The players say Nick’s loss was as hard to recover from as the injuries. They surged in July and August. As they did, Jim found it possible to become a fan again. He says it was hard at first, but he found himself checking the sports section, and then watching games, and now his interest in the team that took the gamble and gave his sore armed son the chance to succeed is rekindled. Jim Adenhart is an Angel fan forever.

Jim tries hard not to relive the past. On Nov 9th the trial of Andrew Thomas Gallo will begin in Orange County California. Jim has no intention of attending. He says he tries to harbor no resentment toward the man now charged with three counts of second degree murder and other charges which could send him to jail for as long as 50 years. Jim believes it was fate and that if it hadn’t been Nick, it would have been someone else. He has no reason to want to relive something he is trying so hard to forget.

Ironically, two weeks after he came home and buried his son, Jim had reason to remember. While driving through an intersection in Hagerstown, his car was hit, as Nick’s had been, by a pickup truck. He was two blocks from home. He suffered minor injuries. He says that something or someone told him to take evasive action, to hit the accelerator so he didn’t take the full brunt of the crash. Jim believes that and that belief helps keep him going.

In his eulogy, Jim said the happiest day of his life was the day Nick was born. To commemorate it, Nick’s home town of Hagerstown will name a Little League field after him this year. Jim says he is sure there will be as many blue crabs—Nick’s favorite food—consumed as there will be fond memories of his son.

Some men live 80 years and never touch as many people as Nick did in his brief life. For Jim right now that is both a blessing and a curse but it is how it is and he is learning to live with that.

On August 24, 2009, Nick Adenhart would have been 23 years old.

Ed note: The background for this piece was taken from the LA TIMES story of August 17, 2009, by Mike DiGiovanna. It is used by permission.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Japanese, idiomatic, translated as:

It can’t be helped” or alternatively, “nothing can be done.” In the common speech of modern Japanese, it is the equivalent of “It is how it is.”

The word is an echo of times past, a word that described the feelings of many after December 7, 1941. It was enunciated by the Nisei and the Isei people of the West Coast of the United States in their language. Yet it also described the feelings of their neighbors of all ethnicities.

The country was in one afternoon clearly, irrevocably, and violently at war with Japan. There was confusion, panic, a sense of moral outrage that another nation could do this to us, and yet there it was. It had happened. We had to fight back in everyway we knew how.


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that lazy Sunday morning, some of the fighter aircraft knew they might not be able to return to their carriers. They had been instructed to proceed to a small uninhabited island and wait for a submarine to pick them up. The island was Niihau, and what happened thereafter is known as the Niihau Incident. As told after the war, only two damaged Zero fighters ran low on fuel after being damaged in an engagement with the few American aircraft that managed to get airborne. The pilots went to Niihau. When they circled the island they learned of the first failure of Japanese intelligence. The island was quite inhabited. One of the pilots radioed that he would not land but would return to Pearl, find a suitable target into which he would crash his plane. Yet a minute later, he inexplicably flew nose down into the ocean. Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi, decided that he would land and reach the submarine he believed was there waiting for him.

As he passed over the island again, he found it was better prepared for war than Oahu had been since the level areas in the pastures and other places that looked suitable for a landing were purposely strewn with boulders and other debris. He finally found a small flat area near a house and crashed his plane there.

The islanders, who at this point knew nothing of the Pear Harbor attack, were amazed to see this sleek plane with the red bullseye painted on it’s side as it passed over the island. Niihau was one of many kapu, or forbidden islands in the chain. They were private, owned usually, as was the case here, by an absentee landlord to which they had been given by a previous Hawaiian Monarch. The man who lived nearest pulled the pilot from the wreck and in schoolboy English, Nishikaichi, asked if he was Japanese since to him he appeared to be. He was not although there was several ethnic Japanese living on Niihau. Remarkably the man took him to his house and his wife made him breakfast. Nishikaichi thought that a landing party would be there for him soon from the submarine, so gave little thought to what he said, or did. The villagers even gave him a luau.


The rest of his stay there is a confusing one. He told his story to one of the Japanese residents and his wife, who for reasons of their own did not tell the other islanders all of what he had said. The landlord, restricted from travelling to the island by the military was eventually brought to the island when the residents went to get him after learning that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and they had in their midst one of those who had done it. The submarine had been in the area but had long ago been ordered to Oahu to sink any American relief ships that might try to enter Pearl Harbor. Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi would not be saved. He died in a colossal confusion, one version of which can be found at http://www.historynet.com/the niihau-incident.htm. There is a monument in his hometown in Japan which is inscribed with what are said to be a version of the events and he is described as having “died in battle.”

The importance of the affair is disputed. What makes it noteworthy at all is that it is thought by some that a naval intelligence report forwarded to the Pentagon regarding the incident stating that the “likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan” was one of the driving forces behind the decision to establish Military Areas in the United States. The imprisonment of more than 200,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast for the duration of the war followed.


Strange things happened in this time of confusion and panic. Choices were made. Ralph Lazo went with his Nisei friends when they signed up to be taken to the internment camp. They were his schoolmates. They were members of the same social club that had a baseball team that they all played on and if they were leaving, he was going with them. Ralph was of Irish American and Mexican heritage, but the authorities just assumed, in those chaotic days, that he was another of “them.” he was sent to Manzanar in the Owens Valley of California. His friends were sent to a camp at Heart Mountain Wyoming. Undaunted, Ralph became the star pitcher for the high school team in the camp, the “Manzaknights” and was on of the graduates of the Manzanar High School, which existed long enough to graduate a class in 1942,’43 and ‘44.


The interment policy was the choice of the military to control the “yellow peril,” and possible enemies amongst us. Americans were frightened, confused, and panicked. The “Japs” had to be contained or bombs would soon fall on Los Angeles. Indeed, there is a man I know now who lived through those times on the West Coast who still believes it was right. “It couldn’t be helped,” he says to me now, “nothing else could have been done.”


For the Nisei, Japanese who were citizens, it was the worst of times. For the Isei, who were Japanese aliens living here but not citizens it was worse. Initially they were all taken from their homes and businesses and placed at racetracks and stadiums to wait. They were encouraged to move east at first, to just leave. Some did and spent the war in the Midwest or East in relative peace. Most could not because their money and homes had been seized. When the government realized that most had no place to go they needed a plan. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which established Military Areas in the United States and the removal of any person who might threaten the war effort and permitted the internment camps--called by even President Roosevelt “concentration camps”--to be established and they were shipped there, each with a tag affixed to their clothing with the number of their family. By November 1942 the “relocation” was complete. A loyalty oath was asked of all internees and one question asked if they swore allegiance to the United States and only the United States. The Isei were torn, if the said yes, they denied their Japanese citizenship, if they said no they were considered traitors. Most said no. They were sent to a camp at Tule Lake California which had a higher degree of security, a worse climate, and worse living conditions.

The Japanese found varying degrees of comfort at each camp. At Manzanar, they found barracks that had been hastily built by a cadre of Japanese “volunteers” who preceded them there made of wood and tarpaper that leaked wind, rain, cold air, and an arid climate which was alien to them. On the first night there, they were given a sack and told to fill it with straw for their bed. Some of the younger ones protested the treatment, but the elders counseled patience. Shikataganai, they said, it can’t be helped, and there is nothing to be done. In the hierarchical society they were used to, this carried great weight and most accepted that this was how it would be. They settled into life in the camp. They started a newspaper, baseball teams, built gardens in the arid land, sacrificing their own water supplies to water them. They built a cemetery, furniture from scrapes of packing crates and ate in dining halls. There were 10,000 of them on 500 acres with no privacy, sharing rooms, and showers without regard to sex. They did not thrive. They endured the worst conditions of their lives. By September of 1942, 10,000 Japanese were living in 504 barracks in 36 “blocks” at Manzanar. Each block had 14 barracks of four rooms each. Any combination of four people occupied one room of 20x25 feet. A lamp, oil stove, four cots, and blankets were the only furnishing provided. They made the rest.


By 1943, some of the younger men and women from the camps were permitted to join others who had been in the Army when the war broke out. Many of the men were sent to Europe to fight the Germans in the Italian campaign. They fought bravely in a segregated unit, the now famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as part of the 100th Infantry Battalion which was made up of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard. They were known as the “Purple Heart” regiment for the number of wounds and casualties as well as the medals awarded. Thus, there was the incongruous sight of a blue or gold star hanging on the barracks of a family living behind barbed wire surrounded by guard towers who had either a son or daughter in the military, or one who had died for his country.

One received the Medal of Honor, the highest Military decoration America can bestow on a member if the military. It is, by criteria, given only for an act that a rational person would not find acceptable as a lawful direct order from a superior, yet saves the lives of others. Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori, whose mother and siblings were suffering the cold, heat, and indifference of their fellow citizens inside the barbed wire at Manzanar, performed such an act. He purposely jumped on a live grenade and was credited with saving his entire Platoon.


In 1944, the court challenge to their detention, brought on behalf of the internees, had made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court held, in a decision as convoluted as any they had handed down up to that time, that the government had the Constitutional authority to evacuate citizens based solely on national ancestry while separately ruling that loyal citizens cannot be held against their will. The detainees remained in the camps.

The war with Japan ended on August 14, 1945. By November 21st The Manzanar War Relocation Center was closed. They were free to go, where was now the only question. The government provided transportation for most by train and bus back to their former hometowns. When they arrived, many found that there businesses had been seized, as had their homes. They no longer belonged there. In three short years their lives had been altered forever. Nothing could be done they were told… Shikataganai again…yet they started over taking what work they could, becoming the gardeners for California houses, some smaller than they owned before they were internees. They survived and their children flourished and their Government, 43 years later, officially apologized and awarded each if the known 88,000 survivors $20,000 for the inconvenience.

Perhaps it was the policy. Perhaps it was their loyalty, but the irony was simply this: No Japanese American or Japanese alien living in the United States during World War II was ever arrested for, or charged with espionage.


The Manzanar War Relocation Center was established as a National Historical Site in 1992, and is maintained by the National Park Service. They are slowly reconstructing certain parts of the camp. The original Auditorium, used for many years as a warehouse to house county vehicles has been restored as an interpretative center. A dining hall and guard tower has been faithfully restored and a barracks is underway with the help of volunteers and donations from the public. This place, so haunting in its desolation will not soon be forgotten here on the wind swept floor of the Owens Valley.

On hot summer evening, or in the cold of the late fall, one can stand here and look at Mount Whitney in the distance and wonder what it would have been like to be here in that chaotic time when these people were feared only because they looked like the enemy. Two thirds of those held here against their will for the duration of the war were American citizens by birth. It is not hard to project those feelings today into this Age of Sacred Terror. Could it happen again? Could an entire ethnicity be questioned as to their loyalty?

Perhaps it could and perhaps not. It surely does not have to be as the elders decided.