Of all of our nation’s armed services, Americans probably know the least about the United States Coast Guard. One hears the stories of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and air men and women, but rarely does one hear a Coast Guard story. Well, let me tell you the story of my father, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Rikio Izumi.
My dad was born in Hilo, Hawaii in 1930 and he turned 92 years old this past June. He came from a poor family that worked at and lived on a sugar cane plantation. His family moved to Honolulu when he was in middle school and after graduating from high school he joined joined the Hawaii Air National Guard.
My dad and his best friend, however, wanted to see the country, so they decided to enlist in the Coast Guard in 1951. It was a decision that would totally change my dad’s life.
The Coast Guard sent my dad to Oakland to receive his basic training. He then took a Greyhound bus across country to Boston, where he joined the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Casco.
Growing up in Hawaii, my dad was an excellent swimmer, so he was assigned to the ship’s rescue unit tasked with rescuing people from the water.
The Casco would often be assigned hurricane duty. When one hurricane was about to make landfall in Florida, the Casco received a message that four elementary-school-aged children had been swept out to sea in Miami.
The Casco reached the area quickly and lowered my dad and his best friend, who was also a member of the rescue unit, in a small boat to go out and rescue the children.
The hurricane winds and rough seas, however, prevented the small boat from getting to the children, so my father and his friend jumped into the ocean and swam to the children. My dad grabbed two small girls and held each of them up so they could breathe as he attempted to swim on his back. The waves were huge and the children were ingesting seawater, but somehow he was able to make it to shore. My dad’s friend also managed to save the other two children.
When he reached the shore, the children’s frantic mother couldn’t stop hugging my dad and his friend. My dad told the mom that she should hug her children instead. That’s the kind of guy he was and is.
Once back on the Casco, the captain thanked and praised my dad and his friend profusely saying he was now so happy to have sailors from Hawaii on his ship.
You often hear about the children of veterans who only learn about the heroic exploits of their parents accidentally or many years later. Well, I did not know that my dad had saved the lives of those two little girls, as a hurricane was roaring, until this past summer when I asked him about his duties on the Casco.
My dad was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard in 1953. He located to Los Angeles after his service and used his G.I. Bill education benefits from the Coast Guard to attend Woodbury College in Los Angeles. He became the first person in his family to graduate from college. He then worked as a landscape architect for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, where he eventually rose to become the County’s head trail planner.
My dad says that so much of the success he has experienced in his life is due to his service in the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard opened up opportunities for a poor boy from Hawaii to do great things as he served his country, to become educated, to succeed in his profession, and to raise a family. Serving in the United States Coast Guard made all these wonderful things possible.
Although we use this term very loosely nowadays, my father is a true hero. He exemplifies the courage, dedication, and self sacrifice of the men and women who have served this nation in uniform.
This past June, 70 years after he was honorably discharged, the Coast Guard awarded my dad a medal for his brave service at an incredible ceremony at the Los Angeles Coast Guard Base.
To my father and all America’s veterans, happy Veterans Day and thank you.