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In the summer of 1966, when I was seventeen, my nineteen-year-old cousin James Kajiwara and I spent endless hours discussing our plans for the future. Then Jimmy was drafted into the Army. His eventual destination was Vietnam. Before leaving for advanced infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he gave me my Christmas, birthday, and graduation presents. Roy, he said, ” I have a feeling I won’t be back.”
“Don’t say that!” I pleaded. ” “Promise me you’ll be back for my graduation next June.”
“Okey, I promise. I’ll be back.”
But four months later, on March 11, 1967, he was killed in action. I tried to deny his death. At first I felt empty, then angry; finally I felt nothing. Graduation day came and thoughts of Jimmy welled up inside me.
The graduating students sat up in the hot bleachers of the Tennyson High School gym while the parents were seated on the main floor, Wiping the sweat off my face, I watched the setting sun cast an eerie light through the doors. Suddenly a chill swept through my whole body as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on my head.
I began to shiver uncontrollably. I looked for Mom down in the audience- and then I saw him. Standing in the door way, just two hundred feet away, was Jimmy. A wave of heat engulfed my body. Quickly I looked away in fear.
The student sitting next to me said, “what’s the matter? Looks like you just saw a ghost.”
Though panic- stricken, I summoned my courage and looked at Jimmy again. He was wearing his favorite red Pendleton shirt, carrying his camera as usual, and smiling directly at me. ” Do you see that guy standing over there at the door?” I asked my neighbor.
“What guy? Are you all right?” he replied. But it wasn’t a dream. All I could manage was to smile at Jimmy, and then he was gone. My heart sank. Who would ever believe me?
Several days later, when I couldn’t hold it inside any longer, I confided in Mom (Lilian Matsuda).
“Tell me when and where you saw him,” she said. ” did he look like?”
Slowly I repeated the details of my experience to her. “I thought it was a dream but I know it wasn’t.” “It was no dream,” Mom said, “because you’re describing exactly what I saw too.”
I was relieved and stunned all at once. Heretofore I had never had any feelings about life after death. Jimmy came back to show me the truth.
Roy Matsuda (as told to Corliss Chan)