My name is Bert Sagara, but once, for a short time, it was something else… Yukio Kimura

 

I was adopted from ESH in 1954.

 

My adoptive father is now 96 and lives in the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, MS.  My adoptive mother died in 2005 at the age of 84.  My father is a Nisei from Wapato, WA.  His family were truck farmers in the Yakima Valley, as were many Nisei families back then.  My Dad's father and mother came to the States from Fukushima prefecture in Japan.  My Dad and his family were interned at Heart Mountain, WY during the war, and eventually my Dad joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in US military history, comprised of Nisei from the camps and others from Hawaii, etc.  He wanted to earn more pay to send back to the family in camp, so he signed up to become a paratrooper, and became part of the 82nd Airborne, and went to Europe to fight.  My mother was born in Germany, and her family ran a bakery for generations.  During the war their bakery and city were bombed, and they lost everything.  My mother joined the Nazi army as a nurse.  When the war ended my Dad was stationed in Berlin, where he met my mother who was running a black-market operation.  They eventually married and settled in California, where my father was stationed after the war as a part of Air Force Intelligence.  In the late '40s he got orders to go to Japan due to his ability to read, write and speak Japanese, and he became part of the US occupational force in Japan.  My mother came to Japan a year later from California, where she worked in a bank in the Haight district in San Francisco.  They both wanted to have kids, but my mom was unable to conceive.  After doing some research, they found out about Mrs Sawada, and ESH.

 

I have heard the story of my adoption a few times from both my mother and father, and again by my father just yesterday.  The story is always the same.  According to Mrs. Sawada, I was brought to ESH by an elderly couple in their 50s.  They were obviously not my birth parents.  There was no history of my birth, and the names of my birth mother and father were excluded from any records.  The story goes that I was born to a member of the Imperial court, perhaps a lady in waiting or something along those lines.  My birth father was an American attaché/officer assigned to that part of government.  It was thought that my mother's family had some influence in the court, and chose to purge any records of my birth, and that is why I can never find out who my birth parents were.  I can only believe what Mrs. Sawada told my parents, and to this day my Dad says he would tell me if it were not true.  He's 96 with nothing to lose, so I accept the story as truth.  My Dad says they went to Oiso by train and met with Mrs. Sawada.  They talked a bit, then Mrs Sawada disappeared and returned with a little baby boy wrapped in a small bath towel and handed me to my Mom.  Mrs. Sawada gave them a bottle of milk with a nipple, and off they went to take the train back to Tokyo with me in tow.

 

The next step was to get me to become a naturalized American citizen, which in those days was no small task.  Working through various channels including congressmen, lawyers, etc., I was finally naturalized.  My parents had to get me to the US before the end of '54 in order to finalize my naturalization.  We all took a boat from Japan to California and completed the necessary process to gain my citizenship.  After that was completed, we took the boat back to Japan, where my Dad was stationed.  We lived in a Japanese village right outside of Grant Heights, which was an ex air defense airport turned US military base, mainly for housing.  Grant Heights was turned into Hikarigaoka Park, about 30 minutes by subway from central Tokyo.  I remember a lot from that time, including the sweet potato man who came by daily singing his song.  I remember the honey buckets, the farmers, the smell of smoke from fields burning and cremations, playing in abandoned bomb shelters, playing in immense timber bamboo forests with shrines and gravestones, and many rides on the back of our houseboy's motorcycle as he took me to eat sushi.  An old Willy's Jeep was our family vehicle, and we would drive into Tokyo to go swimming near the Tokyo Tower, shop, and eat out now and again.  Japan in the '50s was a wonderful place to be young kid.

 

We moved to the States in 1960.  My Dad was stationed in Seattle, WA.  Our family moved to Bothell, WA and bought 10 acres and we had a small farm.  We had every farm animal you can imagine, including bees and I raised 150 rabbits for money.  My mother opened a knitting/yard shop in downtown Bothell, and even had a Seattle Times article written about her shop and her knitting prowess.  Eventually my parents divorced, and in 1970, at the age of 17, I joined the Navy.  I signed up for Hospital Corpsman school (medic) in San Diego, and then transferred to Oakland in 1971 to go to Operating Room Technician school.  My time in the Bay area was a real eye opener, and I became involved in the antiwar movement and the counter culture in so much as I could being in the military. Corpsman are the medics for the Marine Corps, and I finally realized after taking care of many wounded Marines that I was being set up as cannon fodder.  All graduates from OR School were assigned combat duty in Vietnam, usually front lines with the Marines.  I told my Dad to either find a way to get me out of it, or I was going to Canada.  There was a clause that allowed "Father/Son Duty".  My father was stationed in Bremerton, WA.  The orders came down for my class, and everybody went to Camp Pendleton, then to Vietnam except me.  I went to Bremerton to work in the OR.  That event was pivotal in my life, as were the events in 1952 and '54.  I felt as if there was an invisible hand guiding my life.

 

In 1978 or so I was contacted by Nippon TV about a special they were doing on ESH and the stigma that surrounds half Japanese in Japan, like me.  Mrs. Sawada contacted my parents, who were stationed again in Japan, to see if I would be interested.  Of course, I was, and Nippon TV flew me out to NYC, along with many others from ESH.  Many of the kids came from Brazil.  We had a wonderful time together and spent many hours talking about life as we knew it as ESH alumni so to speak. The Nippon TV interviews focused on our feelings towards Japan, and whether we would want to go back to live.  Many of the kids said they would like to go back to Japan, but the prevailing attitudes kept them from doing so.  Many didn't want to go back and work in the entertainment and hospitality sectors.  I gathered those jobs were where half Japanese often worked.  I'm not sure if that was or is actually the case, but it was a topic of conversation.  I said that I was happy being an American and had no desire to return to Japan.  It was too late, I had been assimilated.

 

In 1982 I met my wife while hiking in the mountains.  We were married in March 1983 and are celebrating our 36th year together next year.  In 1984 I started a new life involved in international adventure travel, and traveled all over the world guiding trips in Peru, Nepal, Africa, etc.  In 1988 I became a stock photographer with what is now Getty

Images.  I'm still with them today, 30 years later.  I also continued doing adventure travel trips, mainly in the US and Mexico, on land and rivers, doing my last commercial trip in 2006.  I live on a small island of 900 people outside of Bellingham, WA.  I've lived here for 30 years.

 

As I get older (now 66), I often marvel at my life, and how it evolved, from the beginning to the present.  It's a wonder how it all unfolded. 

It has been an incredible journey.  I always think I have had three mothers......my birth mother, Mrs Sawada, and my adoptive mother.  All of them, in one way or another, have looked after my wellbeing, and were with me during my most vulnerable times, and made sure I was kept safe and healthy.  Often, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

 

I will be traveling to Japan in February 2019 to pay my respects to Mrs. Sawada, and to visit ESH and the land I was born in.  I'm so looking forward to the trip and know it will be full of emotions and discovery after all of these years.  I will be bringing a book with me to read again...."The Least of These".

​©2018 by Ana Johns all rights reserved.​  author photo credit ©caseyandhercamera

  • Facebook - Grey Circle
  • Twitter - Grey Circle
  • Instagram - Grey Circle