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Dr. Sammy Lee Reflects on Obama Inauguration

Keo Nakama and Halo Hirose
Ohio State teammates:
Keo Nakama and Halo Hirose.

I was fortunate to be invited by a living legend Coach Phil Moriarty to dive at the Yale's State of the Art pool after the '48 London Olympics. I believe the architect was another DIVING  legend R.Jackson Smith.

Nostalgia predominant to me was at the 1942 Indoor AAU National Championships held some 5 months after Pearl Harbor. Ohio State's Keo Nakama was on his starting block when Larry Johnson (of Columbia I believe) grabbed him and said "what is a Jap doing swimming in an American championship!"  Ohio St ate's MIKE PEPPE GRABBED LARRY BY THE TIE AND SHOUTED HE IS AN AMERICAN MORE THAN YOU!  You could have heard a pin drop in that packed house.  Then a roar went up when they introduced Rene Choteau of Yale whom they favored in the 400meter freestyle.   Rene led for 380 meters but the fighting Keo caught him and won! During the medal presentation everyone stood celebrating Keo's Americanism of never ever giving up.

That summer I won my 1st National Diving Championship at New London, Connecticut edging out another legend Miller Andersen on the 3 meter springboard...thus becoming the 1st person of color to win a U.S. National Diving Championship. We were housed at the New London Coast Guard Academy & I happened to be alone with Keo. Keo said to me "Sammy I know you do not like the Japanese but I am not Japanese. My parents are Okinawans & I know how you feel."

Frank, Nakama and his Ohio State teammate Halo Hirose would have been gold medallists if we had the 1940 Olympics but they served in the most highly decorated military outfit of our country's history ---the Purple Heart Go for Broke Division of the 100TH/442nd Infantry Division who helped defeat Germany & Japan.

I owe them, and all the Asian Americans that fought for our nation in World War ll,  a debt of gratitude and heartfelt thanks.  Their bravery proved to the bigots of America that our  loyalties are to the land of our birth.  Another legend...Harrison Dillard served in the All Black Division when they were fighting in Italy next to the 442nd...those damn guys had a suicide complex the way they charged!

Watching our President Obama being sworn in as our 44th President all my thoughts were what a great country we live in.  I am proud of what we have accomplished in recognizing  the equality of all our citizens. It reminded me of MLK 's words  "judge me by the content of my character."

Thanks to Dr. Sammy Lee and Frank Gorman for sharing this story and their lifelong commitments to the sport of diving.

 

Greg LouganisEraldo

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