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Lessons Realized

Tokita family Minidoka 1945. Front row from left Yuzo Shizuko Yoshiko Yasuo Shokichi Back Haruko carrying Goro born in camp 5-6 months old Kamekichi carrying Masao born at Puyallup Fairgrounds where the family was first held. Photo courtesy of Tokita family

Have you ever thought about the lessons you learned from your parents? When did you realize that they were lessons? At the time you were learning these lessons, did you understand and comprehend that they were, in fact, “lessons?”

I don’t know about you, but I never, ever realized at the time that lessons were being taught to me, primarily by my dad. In early years, they were often accompanied by a whack on the head. In later years, there were denials: not being able to go play with my friends or do fun things, no fishing at the canal….

And what were my feelings? Resentment, lots and lots of it.

When we were in concentration camp in Hunt, Idaho, during WWII, a bunch of friends and I started making model airplanes. Remember those small models made of balsa strips for the framework, tissues for the wings and fuselage, with a rubber band to turn the propeller?

I built the first one which was very simple. It consisted of a solid balsa wood fuselage, a solid wing that slipped through a slit in the fuselage, a horizonal stabilizer, and a tail placed in slits which was glued in. You simply tossed it, and it flew a short distance and either crashed or glided to a landing. It flew somewhat, but not very far the first time. It crashed and broke apart the second time. So I started on a second model which was more complicated.

The second plane required building the fuselage, wings and tail components with balsa sticks that were glued together, then was covered with tissue paper. At one point on the second plane, I got stuck and couldn’t figure out what to do, so I quit. After a while, my father asked me when I was going to finish it. I told him it was too hard, so I quit. His reply was that I was not allowed to go out to play until I figured out how to finish the second model. After a period of no play, I decided that I’d better figure this thing out, or I’d never get to go out to play. Needless to say, I was able to solve the problem, finish the plane, fly it a couple of times, crash it, then quit making model planes.

Again, in camp during the summer, my friends and I found out that they were offering judo lessons at block 17; so five of us started going to judo twice a week in the evenings. Since we lived in block 38, and the blocks were paired, it was about ten blocks. That was really fun because a group of us would all go together. The weather was warm, usually daylight going and dark coming home. But with five of us, it was no problem!

Then September rolled around, school started, the weather cooled down and darkness started to set in earlier. One by one, my judo mates dropped out, so I told my dad that I was quitting too. But, you guessed it — no way was he going to let me quit! I had to keep going and going by myself. It was no fun at all. By then, it was going when it was “almost dark” and coming home in the dark, with coyotes howling and the weather deteriorating quickly. I found myself running down and back, even in the rain and snow with no street lights. I had to continue until the judo class was shut down over a year later, as people started moving out of camp when WWII was in its final stages. On top of that, I was still a white belt!

There was also the problem of eating at the mess hall. All of my friends were allowed to sit together every evening at supper. However, our family had a table set aside as the “Tokita Table,” specially reserved for our large family of seven kids. My dad would not allow me to join my friends, who were playing around, laughing, joking and having a marvelous suppertime. Me, I had to sit with my lousy family and tell my dad what happened during the day.

Well, guess what? Fifteen years later, at age 25, I was a lieutenant in the Air Force sitting at a desk after work, working on a project that was levied on me by my boss, while my friends were at the Officer’s Club having a “cool one” at the bar. Several weeks later, it was the same thing. A couple months later, it was the same thing again. So I went to the boss to ask him why I was getting picked on to do these jobs.

He simply said that he knew that I would finish the jobs, and without any help. That wasn’t very satisfactory at the time, but when my efficiency report came out, I was rated at the top with the comment that “Lt. Tokita gets assignments completed and is able to solve problems.”

When I saw those comments, I thought, “Hmmm… finishes jobs, like airplane models and judo lessons, and able to solve problems…”

Ten or more years later, I always insisted that suppertime was when all of my family, consisting of my wife Elsie and my two children, Kurt and Kara, had to be together to have dinner. It was the only time I would have being together with them to hear what went on during the day.

One day, I started to think about that scenario and thought, “Hmmm…. all the family has to sit at the mess hall table together….”

I realized much later that there were other lessons that were taught to me. I had a successful military career as well as one as a financial adviser before I retired. So, I needed to thank my dad so many years later. But, the problem was that he died when I was only 14.


This article was originally published in The North American Post on February 19, 2023.


© 2022 Shokichi Shox Tokita / North American Post

armed forces concentration camps education families military World War II camps
About this series

This series shares personal, touching stories of Shokichi “Shox” Tokita’s family, which includes their incarceration in Minidoka concentration camp, his family struggles after the War, and his mother who ran a hotel business to support her family after his father’s death.

*Stories in this series were originally published in The North American Post. 

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About the Author

Shokichi “Shox” Tokita is a retired career U.S. Air Force navigator and Vietnam veteran who enjoys working out regularly, like playing pickle ball, when gathering in gyms is allowed. His present plans include submitting articles periodically to the North American Post, for which he retains “a soft spot.”

Updated November 2021

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