By Submitted Article on November 12, 2019.
By Graham Ruttan
The Galt Museum & Archives have been entrusted with the care of a set of medals from an Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrant) veteran from southern Alberta who fought in the First World War. Pat Sassa donated the medals which were awarded to her Okinawan father, Tomomi Okutake.
Okutake’s wife Tsuru talked about his desire to volunteer for the war, saying, “He studied the Han Chinese in Japan when he was little. In Confucianism, they say that when people move to a new place they should act as people do in that place. He lived in Canada, so he tried to fulfill his obligation as a Canadian.”
Okutake’s military records show he enlisted on May 26, 1916 in Calgary. He started as a trooper with the 13th Regiment Canada Mounted Rifles. In Europe he joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, ranking up to a private, and later joining the 52nd Battalion. Okutake was one of only 222 Japanese Canadians to volunteer for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916, 55 of whom died while on deployment. The two medals Sassa donated to the Galt were the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These medals were always awarded together to soldiers who were mobilized during the war.
After the war, Okutake worked for years in the Galt No. 6 coal mine in Lethbridge. Tsuru talked about the feeling of acceptance in southern Alberta when he returned as a veteran: “Going to the war did not really do anything, [but] he was proud of his service to his country.”
His daughter Pat said this about the effect the war had on her father: “When I look back now I think he may have suffered some post-traumatic experiencesÉ he was always in deep thought. I do believe he was reliving the war.” She also spoke of his dedication to attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Lethbridge: “I remember he never missed a Remembrance Day service at the cenotaph, which was then at the Galt Gardens. Never ever missed. If it was sub-zero, I don’t remember even getting in his car in those days. He walked from Hardieville. If it was winter he still walked. Always wore a suit and tie when he went up town, and always dressed like a gentleman with a cap on, you know, when he went to the ceremonies.”
You can find out more about Tomomi Okutake’s story, his medals and other materials relating to southern Alberta’s connection to the Canadian military at http://www.galtmuseum.
Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.
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