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Brian Kamemoto Okagesamade

Brian Kamemoto is the son of Derek and Audrey Kamemoto and currently a senior at Lincoln High School in Seattle. Brian volunteered to help create the NVC Veteran’s Day film; organize, catalog, and digitize NVC museum archives; and clean the NVC by picking up rubbish. Brian coaches baseball for the Special Olympics of Washington and is a team captain of the Lincoln High School varsity football team. In the fall, Brian plans to attend California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) to study Business Administration.

“Okagesama de” is a Japanese saying that means, “I am what I am because of you.” This statement reflects that we are shaped by the people and situations around us. I believe that my character is a product of the people who I am close to and who have helped me throughout my life. There are many who have had a big impact on my goals and ambitions in my academic and personal careers. Although they were all important, the biggest influence on me has been my grandpa.

My grandpa loved taking me and my siblings fishing when we were little. He bought me
the coolest Spiderman fishing rod. We would walk down a dirt path to the lake with our gear. He would carry all of the fishing gear and rods. He would put a small piece of orange Power Bait on my hook, which I refused to touch because of the smell. At the edge of the lake, I cast my line as far as I could. My hook got snagged on something behind me. I thought it was a tree branch, but when I turned around, my hook was lodged in my grandpa’s ear. I thought he would be angry or in pain, but he was just smiling. That was the type of man he was. He was someone I always looked up to because of his kindness and service to others.

My grandpa was a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese American, born and raised in Hawaii. At 18 years old, he felt a call to serve and protect his country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and enlisted in the military. He was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and served in Europe. He fought to prove Japanese Americans were loyal and that they should be treated as equal citizens. He risked his life for his country and to protect Japanese American rights. Even when his country betrayed them, he still risked his life for what he believed in. In 2010, he received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service. My grandfather, Harry Ishibashi, passed away at the age of 97 in 2021.

My appreciation for service came from watching my grandpa, learning about his life, and seeing his passion for helping others. He would tell me how, through the Friends and Family of the Nisei Veterans organization, he was able to travel back to Bruyères, France, for a celebration put on by the town that his regiment had liberated from the Germans during WWII.

After hearing many years later about my grandpa’s trip, I started to ask more about his life and service. I wanted to know more and get involved in the things he was interested in and learn more about the 442nd. The Friends and Family of Nisei Veterans is in California, so my mom suggested we get involved in a local organization, the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC).

The NVC strives to preserve and honor the legacy of Nisei veterans who have served our country. My grandpa was proud of the work of the 442nd and wanted others to know about the contributions and sacrifices of Nisei veterans. In February of 2019, I started to volunteer at the NVC Hall every other week. I wanted to serve in a way that honored his legacy and benefited the community. I got the opportunity to meet officers, volunteers, and veterans at the hall and learn more about the 442nd through various projects they assigned to me. One exciting project was that I was able to create a NVC Veterans Day video (with my sister, Mari, and church youth group leader, Ben Higashi), honoring and recognizing the work of veterans like my grandpa and connecting with local and state leaders, officials, and veterans in the process.

Volunteering is really where I found my love for service and felt I was making a difference. I think that my call to service is in my genes and is rooted in my family history. It originated from learning from my grandpa but blossomed into passion and a desire to help others. This led me to volunteer as a coach for a Special Olympics baseball team, where I could benefit others and the community, just as my grandpa did. Additionally, I serve at our church by volunteering in the children’s ministry. I want to create the same kind of memories for the children that my grandfather worked so hard to create for me. In sports, I served my high school football team all 4 years and was ultimately chosen as the captain of our team, giving back to my school, teammates, and program by leading, mentoring, and serving in any way I could.

I hope to be able to use what I have learned from my grandpa and my previous volunteering experiences. I hope to be able to educate and serve others in a way that would honor my grandpa. Through my education and studying business, I want to continue to strengthen my communication, leadership, and management skills and be able to make a difference in my community.

Okagesama de reminds me that I am shaped by my grandpa and his legacy. When I serve, it connects me to him and reminds me of the wonderful moments I shared with him and the lessons that he taught me. I am glad that I was able to hear his stories and learn about him and his life. I hope that I can serve in my own unique way in different ways in my life. My ultimate goal is to honor my grandfather and continue to serve others as best as I can.