Turner Kobayashi at the 72nd Annual Memorial Day Service, November 15, 2020. Photo: Neet Ford.
By Turner Kobayashi
11/15/20 is today’s date. Numbers have a way of working in mysterious ways. My father, Key Kiyokazu Kobayashi was born on March 11, 1922 in Fresno, California. Both his parents passed before he turned the age of four and he was raised by family and family friends. He grew up in Fresno, Turlock and eventually graduated from Alameda High School. He got accepted to the University of California, Berkeley and was an excited and avid student. In the second semester of his sophomore year, he learned that Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this order authorized the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. Little did he know or understand the road that laid ahead.
He was moved from the college campus to temporary housing, then to an assembly center in Fresno before finally arriving at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. It was an eye opening experience for a 21 year old young man. He adjusted and adapted as best as he could, he joined the camp baseball team to give him the chance to travel outside the barbed wire fences to play other camps. He realized that the only way to actually leave the camp was either for the war to end or for him to join the US military. He chose to join the U.S. Army. Due to his bilingual skills, he entered the Military Intelligence Service and achieved the rank of Lieutenant.
Upon one of his deployments, he meets my mom in Tokyo. Kyoko Toyoda was a Japanese national at the time, having lost her father, older brother and sister to the horrific Tokyo fire bombings. I can only imagine what my grandmother was thinking when a young man wearing a United States Army uniform comes up and asks her for her daughter’s hand in marriage after all the suffering she had experienced.
Our dad came back to the states with a young bride that spoke no English, two small children at the time and went back to finish his schooling. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science and later went on and received his Master's degree from Columbia University in International Relations.
But things weren’t easy. There was still quite a bit of anti-Japanese sentiment after the war and finding a job was very challenging. Fortunately, some of his military buddies would vouch for him and he was able to get a job at the U.S. Patent Office and then he moved over to the Library of Congress, where he spent the bulk of his career as the Assistant Head of the Japanese section.
He became the father of seven children, four girls, three boys. My mom became a proud naturalized U.S. citizen and eventually had her own distinguished career with the U.S. government.
Our dad was active, very active. He was the President and member of our elementary, intermediate, and high school PTAs. He was a proud, long-serving member and officer of the Kiwanis Club. He was an active officer and member of the DC chapter of the JACL. He was one of the original members of JAVA. He worked on The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. He was a long time volunteer and officer for Little League Baseball as their Far East Liaison Representative. He was instrumental in bringing the Japanese and Taiwan teams to the Little League World Series, even acting as team interpreter and representative for ABC Wide World of Sports coverage. A year after his death, Fairfax County named the baseball park that my brothers and sisters played on at Jefferson Village in Falls Church after him: The Key Kobayashi Baseball Field. Our Field of Dreams.
We are here today in part because of our dad. He began a memorial service back in 1948 with other JACL members like Mike Masaoka and Ira Shimasaki for an annual Memorial Day Service here at Arlington National Cemetery. He was the chairman of this event for 44 consecutive years until the year of his death in 1992. My family and I have been attending this event for many years. For the last 28 years, I have had the honor to carry on this tradition as chairman of this event. It has been running for 72 years now, the longest continually running service by an outside organization in the history of Arlington National Cemetery.
It was on 11/15, November 15th in 1992, that changed our family’s lives. It was this day 28 years ago, that my mom’s husband of 40 years at that time, our dad died suddenly and unexpectantly of a heart attack. It was an incredibly sad day. I miss him to this day as I know my mom and brothers and sisters do.
However, this story does not end on this sad note. Just over a month ago, on October 14th, my only child and daughter, Kara had a son, my and Mary Kay’s first grandchild, a first great-grandson to my mom and dad. His name is Cody Kiyokazu Divakinja, after his mom’s grandfather, her dad’s father, her grandmother’s husband. Ironically, the time of birth was 11:15. As they say, as one chapter closes, another one opens.
Here’s to the memory of my mom’s husband, our dad, our children’s grandfather and great grandfather, a community leader, a fighter for civil rights, a coach, a volunteer, military officer, patriotic citizen, your friend and colleague and a great man: Key Kiyokazu Kobayashi. Love you Dad.
[Ed Note: To watch a recording of the 2020 Memorial Day Service or learn about the Keynote Address given by CAPT Cynthia Macri, MC, USN (Ret), visit the JAVA Memorial Day webpage at https://www.java-us.org/Memorial-Day or click here.]
Keynote speaker CAPT Cynthia Macri, MC, USN (Ret) at the 72nd Annual Memorial Day Service, November 15, 2020. Photo: Neet Ford.