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Six Men Recall The Glory and the Sorrow of Fatherhood and Their Lifework

June 21, 1998|DANIEL NUSSBAUM | Daniel Nussbaum is a frequent contributer to the So Socal section of the magazine

Minoru Yamada

Born in Japan, Minoru Yamada and his first wife raised three girls and one boy in Boyle Heights, City Terrace and for four years during World War II, behind the gates of the Manzanar relocation camp. Now six months short of 100, he has the peaceful bearing of an ancient one.

"In 63 years I've never heard my father raise his voice," son Henry notes. But he does laugh a lot--and enjoys playing Go at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. Yamada remarried at 82 after the death of his first wife and lives with Ume, his second wife, in City Terrace. His family includes 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.


My father borrowed $3,000 and leased some land in the San Fernando Valley. It took us a day and a half to get from Los Angeles to Sunland in our wagon, pulled by two mules. We were growing tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots. Then the government started enforcing anti-Japanese laws. Our hands were tied. I told my father, "I don't like this discrimination, let's quit farming." I sent him back to Japan with $20,000 we had saved and I started working at the produce market at 7th and Central. A whole new life.

The Depression came and almost everyone was broke, including my bosses. My brothers and some other guys chipped in and bought the business. It was flourishing when the war started. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the FBI came and interviewed everyone from the produce market. They asked all kinds of questions, but they couldn't find anything wrong and sent us all home. Then the notice came that we had three days, that we were being sent to Manzanar. At least I had my family with me. After the war I studied and became an American citizen. I went back to the produce business and did well.

I have a goal--to live in three different centuries. I think I can make it! I've never been to a doctor in my life! I don't pay much attention to what other people say. I do anything I want, eat anything I want. I have nothing to complain about.

Bennett Berkhausen

The day that Bennett Berkhausen's parents learned about the sinking of the Titanic they must have held the 4-month-old baby especially close. Because he had been diagnosed with an infant hernia, a condition requiring urgent attention, the family had turned in their tickets on the doomed ship.

Dr. Berkhausen, 86, spent World War II near the front lines caring for soldiers, working under conditions that most of us will never know. After the war he began building a medical practice, with surgeons in then-rural Orange County scarce. Dr. Berkhausen lives with Diana, his wife of 54 years, in their antique-filled Laguna Hills apartment. Their two children and five grandchildren live nearby.


We operated under tents. You'd walk in about a quarter to 7 and say, "What's the backlog in the preoperative area?" They'd say, "One hundred twenty." So you'd operate at 12 tables all night and walk out at 7 in the morning and say, "What's the backlog?" They'd say, "One hundred thirty." So you never really seemed to catch up. It was very discouraging.

We had to be on triage one night a week, which means you had to decide whether a man was too badly wounded to give further medical assistance, which was the most difficult thing. Because all during your medical career you'd been taught to try and save even those who had been badly wounded. On occasion we used to have to put them on the side of the tent and give them a big dose of morphine.

You're seeing death and dying. At first it's very nauseating, very devastating. You sometimes are at the lowest level of existence. All you want to do is eat, be warm and have a place to sleep. Fortunately, things have progressed very well since then.

We didn't know anybody when my wife and I first arrived in California. My father had suggested that we go to Santa Barbara, but although it was delightful, we found it was composed of nearly-deads or newlyweds, so we decided to go to Santa Ana.

At one time, I was team doctor for Anaheim High School. I took care of their athletic teams for 30 years. Every time a man went down, I ran out. I can assure you that to be in a stadium with 7,000 people watching you and you're kneeling over a 17-year-old who's unconscious and you're not exactly sure whether he's got a fractured skull or just fainted or has dehydration--it's a very difficult decision to make, and you always hope to do the right thing. It goes very quickly. You think your children are going to be 4 or 14 forever. They are not.

Pete Nouguier

It takes only a bit of imagination to see Pete Nouguier--age 90--diving through the air spearing line drives. An ex-shortstop for the Chicago Cubs minor league team on Catalina, he gave up pro ball to launch a career that took him from a Union Pacific machine shop to the front of a Burbank High School classroom to the streets of the San Fernando Valley, where he and his brother built homes during L.A.'s heady postwar boom.

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