Jimmy Lee was an 11-year-old when planes swooped over his family's farm in what was then known as Kalauao on the shores of Pearl Harbor. Less than a mile from Battleship Row, Lee had a frightening front-row seat to the devastation that was unleashed that Sunday morning. His family headed into the hills, and when they returned after the attacks subsided, Lee went to check on his friend Toshi Yama*moto, whose family ran a big fishpond next door. Toshi, his father and his three sisters were gone. What Lee would find out 71 years later is that armed military police, likely suspicious of the Japa*nese family living so close to Pearl Harbor, gave them 20 minutes to gather up what they could and get out.
Lee remembered seeing smoke and fire and ships burning. Small boats were circling the harbor searching for and picking up survivors and the dead. "I ran down to Toshi's house when we got home, yelling and screaming, Toshi, where you stay?'" Lee, now 82, recalled. From that point on, Lee never saw the family again. For decades, Lee wondered what had happened to Toshi, who was about 16 at the time. Lee said he searched records without luck to see if the family had been detained, relocated or held in an internment camp. There were rumors the parents might have been spies, he recalled.
He said he wrote letters to newspapers seeking information. "My hope was that an old man like me would come up and say to me, I'm Toshi,' but it never happened," Lee said. Until Dec. 7, 2012. It wasn't Toshi who reached out to Lee, but his son, Irwin Yama*moto, now 50. The Star-Advertiser had published a story Dec. 3 about Lee, who related Toshi's disappearance. "Dec. 7, 1941, was a tragic day for America, but for myself it was not only witnessing the attack, the excitement and the danger ahead, (but) I lost my good friend. It was an awful day for me," Lee said.
Irwin Yamamoto got an email from a cousin telling him to check out the newspaper story. "She said, You've got to take a look at this because it mentioned by name Toshi,' and I said, That's got to be my father,'" said Yama*moto, who lives in Wahiawa. Toshi died in 1994. His three sisters still live in Hawaii. Lee was on Rick Hamada's radio show on Dec. 7, the 71st anniversary of the attack, and Yama*moto tried to call in. Later that day the show called Lee, who called Yama*moto. On Thursday they met in the parking lot of the Best Buy in Aiea where Lee's family used to have a farm and chickens, pigs, cattle and ducks. "Mr. Lee!" Yamamoto said as he shook Lee's hand.