When I was growing up in Caledonia, Minnesota, I pestered my dad relentlessly to tell me stories "about the war". Dad is a WWII veteran, having first served as an MP at Camp Hale in Colorado and then as a 1st Sergeant in the 104th Infantry Division. He did not serve overseas, but that didn't matter to me...I wanted to hear all about his life as a soldier.
Often, his stories would revolve around his adventures with his company clerk, Tetsuya “Ted” Oye. Ted was a Japanese-American enlistee who was assigned to Dad’s office at Camp Hale. They worked together every day managing the base’s military police company.
Dad would deviate from whatever story he was telling, to explain that Ted had enlisted despite his parents, two brothers and sister being locked up in an Idaho internment camp. “What in the hell did you enlist for, Ted” my Dad asked. Ted’s sole response to the question that was asked of him by soldiers throughout the war, was “Maybe it will make things a bit easier for my folks.”
In 1943, Ted said good-bye to my Dad. He had volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, then organizing at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. That was the last my Dad heard from Ted.
Dad’s stories to me about Ted would conclude with, “You know, Ted joined the Nissei Battalion. They all got cut to hell. I guess poor Ted never made it.”
As I grew older, I repeated these stories to friends and even my daughter. Many had heard about Ted Oye, the man my dad affectionately referred to as his best buddy during the war. The stories always concluded the same, “I guess poor Ted never made it.”
In 1999, I made a feeble attempt to locate Ted, or at least, his grave. The attempts were in vain. In 2005, I realized how much information was available via the Internet that hadn’t been accessible just a few years prior. So, I googled Ted’s name, and darned if I didn’t find a few leads. Seems there was a fellow by the same name participating in all sorts of 60th Anniversary events. His hometown was given, so I did a white pages search, and a few minutes later, was dialing the number of a man named Ted Oye.
It was a Sunday morning when I called. I apologized for the early call but quickly explained that I was the son of a man named John Graf who served at Camp Hale during the war. “Yes,” the voice on the other end said hesitatingly, “my very good friend at Camp Hale was John Graf.”
I had found Mr. Oye! He was alive!
We shared addresses and quickly struck a correspondence. More importantly, I gave him my Dad’s phone number. Mr. Oye called him immediately.
Though 62 years had passed since they last spoke, they picked right up where they left off in the mountains surrounding the Colorado garrison in 1943.
Since then, Ted, his spouse and daughter have all been in contact with my folks, my brother, sister and me. We have swapped photos, phone calls and cards. I have secretly taken great pride in reuniting my Dad with his wartime buddy.
Back in 1999, Mom called me at work. You all know the feeling with those calls that come at the wrong time...something’s not right. Ted’s wife had called, Ted passed away.
We are all aware of the attrition rate of our WWII veterans. Numbers like “800 a day”, “1,000 a day” or “1,200 a day” are bandied about, but it doesn’t sink in until the day someone close to us passes away. My Dad is stoic about Ted’s death. That generation has had a lot of practice saying good-bye.
But it has hit me hard. A bit of my youth passed with Ted. He was a vibrant part of the stories that my Dad shared with me about the War. More importantly, I got to know him.
After the War, Ted took advantage of the G.I. Bill and learned watch making and engraving. He met his wife, Sunkie in Philadelphia, and the two married in 1947. They two raised two children, Tish and David. For more than 30 years he owned a successful watch repair and jewelry store in Millville, New Jersey. He was even elected president of the local Rotary Club.
We talked about families, our travels, and our health. I became a friend of my Dad’s best friend.
I miss Ted, but I take comfort in knowing that he and my Dad reconnected.
Tetsuya “Ted” Oye will always be a hero in the Graf family.
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