Jim Suzuki was 19 when he signed up to fight in World War II. Enlisting provided an escape from internment camps where he, along with more than 120,000 other Japanese-Americans from the West Coast, had been ordered to live after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The forced internment was a gross violation of his civil liberties, but incredibly the teen still felt proud to be an American. He still wanted desperately to serve his country.
“I felt that it was the right thing to do,” the nonagenarian said, sitting in the library at the Stoneridge Creek retirement community in Pleasanton.
He would return from war in 1945 after serving for two years as a Private First Class in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He had a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and three Bronze Service Stars, but no place to call home.
Suzuki's story is one of many personal accounts documented as part of Stoneridge Creek's legacy project, which serves as an ever-growing tribute to the more than 90 veterans who now reside there. Spearheaded by residents Kate and Kevin Kelly, the massive undertaking includes biographies, rare photographs, discharge papers, and other memorabilia that dates back to World War II. A growing collection of binders displayed in the community library houses the treasure trove of American history.
Kate Kelly said she felt compelled to document personal histories after learning more about Stoneridge's large veteran population. During one community meeting, a speaker asked all the veterans to raise their hand. She was stunned at how many hands shot up into the air.
"Some of these stories have never been told, not even to their friends and family," Kate said. "I started realizing if we don't get this now, it'll be lost forever."
In fact, some of the veterans who shared their stories have since passed away, but their legacy lives on through the project. Others have demurred when asked to participate in the project; recounting wartime experiences is oftentimes painful, notes Kate, and the decision to be forthcoming is deeply personal.
"Some of the veterans are hesitant to share, and I respect that," she said. "But some of them are so optimistic. They'll laugh with you, and they'll cry with you too."
Scroll through the photo gallery for a glimpse at some of the veterans who have shared combat and service stories for the legacy project.