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Understanding history is important … and complicated

Columnist Loren Else says history classes taken long ago still resonate today.

Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig
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Over 50 years ago, I was winding up my first year of college at a Minnesota junior college. As a first-year student, you have no idea who the instructors are when you register for classes. I liked history, and during those first two years, I took a history class every quarter.

I got lucky. A 3-credit class I registered for was History of Japan and Korea. Professor Edwin “Bud” Nakasone taught the class. Once I settled into his classroom, I realized that there was something extraordinary about the man.

He had a passion for his work in education and was an excellent speaker. He also had kindness in his personality, but there was much more to his story.

I would register for his classes for two other quarters, including History of Southeast Asia. At that time, the Vietnam War was not over.

These memories resurfaced recently after my granddaughter told me she would be taking an AP History Exam soon. The exam takes over three hours to complete, and the AP History study guide she showed me was gigantic. Like most teenagers, her plate is full, but she’s been studying.

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My granddaughter had also finished a War Project for her American Studies class. She wrote the story of her great-grandfather. She read the diary he wrote during the war. He served aboard the cruiser USS Portland, which saw action in the Pacific.

For grandparents, it's meaningful when your grandchildren comprehend our country’s history – good and bad. They start to understand the big picture when it comes to the freedoms we have and the sacrifices that have been made.

It's gratifying to tell them family stories when they ask questions about our own grandparents or parents. Boomers had fathers and mothers whose lives were deeply impacted by the depression, World War II, or Korea.

My college instructor was indeed extraordinary. Edwin Nakasone, living on Oahu, was eating a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast on December 7, 1941, when he noticed a beautiful formation of 15 to 20 planes flying up Kolekole Pass.

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Soon he could see and hear from his home that the planes were strafing the Schofield Barracks and dropping bombs on Wheeler Field. He recognized the red circle on the wings of the planes and understood that the Japanese were attacking.

In 1945, at 18 years of age, Mr. Nakasone entered the U.S. army. The Hawaiian native arrived at Fort Snelling on Christmas Day for Military Intelligence Service Language training. The temperature was 5 below. Nakasone would serve in occupied Japan as a linguist assisting American forces in communicating with the Japanese.

Nakasone would comment in interviews that Minnesotans were gracious and kind to him upon his arrival in 1945. He was viewed as a soldier and an American citizen. The kindness he experienced in Minnesota had a bearing on Nakasone.

He returned to Minnesota to obtain degrees at the University of Minnesota, where he met his wife, Mary. He became a high school teacher and was an instructor for 33 years at Century College. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. Nakasone is an author and speaker and has traveled the world. He continues to tell his remarkable story and impacts people positively to this day.

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My wife and I were fortunate to briefly be affected by someone like Nakasone. My wife had Nakasone as an instructor in high school. We all witness the history of our generation – noble and regretful.

My granddaughter said the test went alright. She felt some questions were vague, which made answering difficult. History is complicated.

We learn from it, we are better because of it, and we can be proud of it.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com .

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