Monterey Nursery thrives

World War II veteran Yukio Sumida's Monterey nursery still thrives
Yukio Sumida fought with legendary 442nd battalion
By Dennis Taylor
Herald Staff Writer

Yukio Sumida
     The large garden outside Yukio Sumida's (Poston 215-5-B) home is where he spends much of his time nowadays, planting, pruning, propagating, putting to work the knowledge he accumulated throughout his adult life.
     At 93, Sumida sets his own pace, works until he gets tired, goes inside for a nap, then comes back outside and gardens some more. Sumida spent the better part of five decades working hard at Cypress Garden Nursery, the Monterey business he founded in 1952 on a triangular lot at Cass Street and Munras Avenue.
     "I came over the other day and found him digging a hole to plant his vegetables," said daughter-in-law Betsi Sumida, who married Yukio's son, Ray, 41 years ago. "I asked if I could help, but he said no and just kept digging. He goes slow, takes his time, and gets it done the way he wants."
     Sumida grew up as a farmer's son in Watsonville, then attended Monterey High, where he met Mariko Tsubouchi, a girl he called "Mollie." (Poston 215-6-A)
     They were sweethearts when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. On July 4 of that year, Mollie, her mother, and five sisters were transported by train from Salinas to a barbed wire-enclosed internment camp in Poston, Ariz., where they were held with thousands of other Japanese Americans who initially were deemed to be a wartime security risk. Sumida was drafted and shipped to Kentucky to train with a tank unit.
     The U.S. government reunited them long enough to get married, then transferred Sumida out of his tank unit and deployed him instead to fight the Nazis in Italy and France. Sumida became a member of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans--which became the most celebrated and decorated unit of World War II.
     "Being (Asian) has always been a struggle. But if people call me a Jap, so what?" he says today without a hint of bitterness. "I was just a soldier. My life was always too good to be angry at somebody."
     The 442nd remains a topic of controversy to this day. The "Go For Broke" battalion, as it became known, was sent into some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. Its most famous battle was largely a suicide mission to rescue "The Lost Battalion," a group of Texas National Guardsman who were surrounded by German forces in France's Vosges Mountains. After five days of battle, they broke through and rescued 230 men. More than 800 members of the 442nd gave their lives on that mission.
     Fate may have saved Sumida's life twice during the war. His first outfit-- the tank unit to which he was originally assigned --was almost completely wiped out in North Africa. And on the day before the 442nd's "Lost Battalion" mission, he was injured by shrapnel and was excluded from that bloodbath.
     More than five decades later, in 1997, Sumida would become one of three executive producers of "Beyond the Barbed Wire," a documentary that chronicles the heroics of the 442nd. He is one of several Japanese Americans who tearfully recounts the horrors of battle in the film.
     "The Germans opened up on us," he recollects in the documentary. "My friend in front of us started crying, asking for help. I crept inside the ditch, got to him, and turned him over. He was hit. Only two members of the squad came out with me. It was so bad. I prayed, swore to God that I'd go to church every weekend if I got out of there, but I guess I'm a hypocrite because I never did go."
     Mollie, seated next to him during the taping of that interview, shakes her head. "I've been married to him for 52 years and I've never heard a lot of this," she says. "He has never talked about any of this."
     Daughter Ann agrees in the documentary that her father rarely spoke a word about his service to the country during the war. "When I was younger I'd ask him questions about the war, and he'd tell me, 'Well, you'd just jump in your foxhole and pray,'" she says in the film. "It's only been within the last year or so that he's opened up about his feelings about the war and the 442nd."
     Sumida says today that he came out of the Army with hearing loss and without job skills. Those obstacles, along with his Japanese heritage, made job hunting difficult, so the farmer's son became a gardener. "I came from a family of farmers, and farming is nothing but learning," he said. "Nobody taught me how to do anything, but I've learned all my life from experience, by doing it. You do what you can to earn a living and support your family."
     The Sumidas-- a family of four, with children Ray and Ann --lived frugally, a lifestyle Yukio endorses to this day. They moved into an old garage on six acres of rented property near the intersection of Cass Street and Munras Avenue in Monterey and saved their pennies to open a nursery.
     "There was a pit in the garage that they covered with plywood, and they hung blankets to make walls," said Betsi Sumida, a family friend before she married Ray. "They lived there while they built the nursery."
     Cypress Garden Nursery opened at Cass and Munras in 1952 and continues to operate as a family business today at 590 Perry Lane.
     Ray, now 68, says he spent a good chunk of his youth working shoulder-to-shoulder with his dad, while his mother charmed the customers, utilizing an otherworldly memory to recall their names, the names of all their children, what kind of plants they had purchased in previous visits, and a thousand other details that kept the clientele coming back over the decades.
     "I remember complaining a lot, but my dad taught me a work ethic from the time I was little," he said. "And maybe my parents were thrifty, but they made sure Ann and I had everything we needed. We had a good childhood, and the lessons I learned from my mom and dad paid dividends because I enjoy working to this day."
     Betsi, Ray and his sister, Ann Tsuchiya, continue to run Cypress Garden Nursery. Mollie, who worked there until she was 80, died March 5 at age 90. She was married to Yukio for 69 years.
     Yukio has three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
     In November, he was among the surviving members of the 442nd who were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award the nation can bestow. He downplays the importance of the medal.
     "It's not worth a penny to me. It's just something that makes all the big shots feel happy," Yukio said with a hint of a smile. "Six or seven years from now, when I'm gone, the grandchildren can take it to the pawn shop."
     Ray Sumida laughs out loud and shakes his head at his father's humility. "You know, he used to let me play with all of his war medals when I was a child. There were quite a few, I remember losing some of them," Ray said. "He didn't care. They were never important to him. Going to war and fighting for his country ... that was just something he was supposed to do. To my dad, it was just part of being an American."

Source: http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_20775084/world-war-ii-veteran-yukio-sumidas-monterey-nursery

No comments: