Ken and Bill's Excellent Adventure
II. Lost & Found

That’s the thing about Kenny.  He was Japanese.  Not Japanese-American.  Just Japanese. 
      A card-carrying natural-born Japanese citizen.  As the years passed, I wished ever more frequently that I could find him again.  But I didn’t know where or how to begin looking for him.  Was he still in the U.S., or had he had enough of America and gone back to Japan?  I didn’t even know his full name.  His last name was Takenaga, but none of us could ever remember his first name, so we just called him “Ken.”  If there’s a way to find somebody when all you’ve got is a last name, I never discovered it in all those years.
      Then in the summer of 2000, a man named William L. Myers asked if he could publish an essay of mine called “Places and Ways to Live” in a book he was editing called Honor the Warrior: The United States Marine Corps in Vietnam.  My essay described the combination sleeping quarters/fighting hole/reinforced bunker that Roland Maas, Kenny and I built the day after the night the VC mortared the bejesus out of us north of Quang Tri in October 1967.

       At the end of every essay in his book, Myers included the full name and service number of every person mentioned in that essay.  I don’t know how Myers found that information about Kenny, but there it was: Cpl. Kazunori Takenaga 2320456.  Now I could write to the Veterans Administration, and if Ken had ever applied for disability—which seemed highly likely, having lost his arm—the VA would forward a letter to the last address they had for Ken.

Left: Bill & Ken filling sandbags for their combination fighting hole/sleeping quarters/fortified bunker, Quang Tri, October 1967. (WDE)
      Ten days after I wrote to the VA, Kenny called me from Japan.  It had been thirty-two years and seven months since we’d last spoken.

       Almost immediately, I apologized to Ken for getting his arm blown off.  “Oh, no,” he replied.  “I’ve still got my arm.  Works pretty good, too, and I’ve been collecting twenty per cent disability all these years.  I owe you a share.”  He then went on to tell me how, when he finally got out of the hospital, he’d been assigned as a gate guard at the U.S. navy base at Pearl Harbor.  “Can you imagine?” he said, the combination of wonder and mirth evident in his voice across the 8,000 miles between us, “A Japanese guy guarding Pearl Harbor!”

       Over the next decade, Ken has come to Philadelphia many times to visit, and I gradually began to learn what I’d forgotten about him, or had never known.
Our “quarters” upon completion. (WDE)
(Background photo by SA)
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