Category Archives: Library

After 70 Years, A Flag Heals War Wounds

“06880” reader Hiroshi Asada sends along this astonishing story:

Last February, Westporter Harold Gross — a World War II veteran (11th Airborne Division) and member of a Japanese Language Group at the Westport Library –met Barbara O’Hare at the Los Baños Prison Rescue dinner in Manhattan. The annual dinner honors those who participated, and the prisoners they saved.

Barbara’s father was with the 11th Airborne Division’s 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On February 23, 1945 they participated in one of the most successful rescue operations in modern history: Along with Filipino guerrillas, they rescued more than 2,100 Allied internees held behind Japanese lines.

At the 70th anniversary dinner, Barbara showed a discolored Japanese flag her father obtained in the Philippines during the war. She kept the flag after he died.

There are handwritten messages on the flag, but neither she nor Harold could read them. He suggested that Barbara bring the flag to one of our library meetings so that I — a native speaker of Japanese — could see it. In April, Barbara brought the flag and other items.

The 70-year-old Japanese flag.

The 70-year-old Japanese flag, on a Westport Library table.

She wanted to find surviving family members of the original owner, so the flag could be returned to them.

During WWII, it was common for Japanese families to ask relatives, friends and neighbors to put their names on flags. They were given to soldiers as farewell gifts — or perhaps good luck charms — when they left. I heard about such flags, and saw images in movies, but this was the first time I saw a flag like that in person.

I kept the flag to study it. Some of the Chinese characters (Japanese write in Chinese as well as Japanese characters) are in fluid cursive style, which I had trouble reading. So I sent pictures to my mother and aunt in Japan, both of whom had studied and practiced Japanese calligraphy.

One of the challenges is that the soldier’s name is not written on the flag. There is no geographical information either. I figured we probably could not find where the flag came from.

But on the flag are more than 60 names, along with farewell messages for the unidentified soldier. As I finished listing the names on a sheet of paper, I realized more than half shared the same last name: Tachigami. It is an uncommon name.

Perhaps, I thought, the soldier’s last name was Tachigami. I felt he must have come from an area where extended family and relatives lived nearby. He was likely from a rural town — or at least not a major city.

A close-up view of some of the messages and names on the flag.

A close-up view of some of the messages and names on the flag.

My detective work began. First I searched the internet. I found only a few hundred Tachigami households in Japan. They’re concentrated in a relatively small area – in and around Fukushima City, about 100 kilometers east of Hiroshima.

I became more optimistic, and thought I might be able to find someone who knows who the soldier was. I used social media and made international calls. But the effort led nowhere.

While unsure what to do next, I learned from one of my wife’s friends that Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has an office that might help us find a surviving family member.

I contacted them immediately, sending pictures that showed details on the flag, along with my comments, observations and analysis. I did not hear back for a while. Hope faded.

But in mid-November, 7 months after starting this search, a letter arrived from the government agency. They located Hideko, the oldest daughter of the soldier.

I confirmed that her last name is on the flag. I could tell the handwriting was of a child. They are indeed from Fukuyama City.

I called Barbara. Of course, she was very excited.

Hiroshi Asada, with the flag.

Hiroshi Asada, with the flag.

Hideko, 81, is the only surviving daughter of Kakuichi Tachigami. He was in the Japanese Navy, and sent to the Philippines. Hideko was 10 or 11 when the war ended, so she was very young when Kakuichi left his family. He probably died in the Philippines, where the 11th Airborne Division was at that time.

I have not spoken with Hideko directly. But I talked to her son, Kazuhisa, and daughter-in-law over the phone. Hideko spends a couple of days a week in a special care facility. While she has good and bad days, her son told me that she does remember the flag.

Interestingly, I realized that Hideko and my parents are around the same age. In fact, Kazuhisa and I was born the same year, 1960 — 15 years after the war ended.

Barbara will come to Westport from New Jersey to see the flag one last time, later this month at the library. We’ll take a picture of her, Harold and me, then send the flag to Japan. She is also considering the possibility of personally delivering it to the family.

This has been a special experience for me. I am glad Harold suggested Barbara bring the flag to our meeting. Also, without the library’s Japanese Language Group, Harold and I might not have had a chance to know each other — and this search with a nice ending would never have happened.

The Japanese Language Group -- and the flag -- at the Westport Library. A's detective work began here.

The Japanese Language Group — and the flag — at the Westport Library. Hiroshi Asada’s detective work began there.

What The V?

A strange thing appeared yesterday on the lower level of the Westport Library, near the stairs leading up to the cafe:

V at Westport Library

It’s 8 feet tall. There are buttons people can push, to change the blinking LED lights.

Remnant from the old “V” restaurant? Homage to Winston Churchill? Discard from the CES Show in Las Vegas?

If you have any idea what this “V” is, or why it’s in the library, click “Comments” below.

First Night: First Photos

Westport’s 22nd annual First Night celebration kicked off this afternoon.

The weather was perfect — no rain, sleet or ice, but just enough of a wintry nip in the air to make it New England-y — as kids, parents and grandparents strolled from site to site.

First Night continues through 10 p.m. tonight. Fireworks are set for 7:30 at Jesup Green — right near an outdoor warming fire, stargazing telescope and kettle corn.

Happy New Year!

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house.

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house.

A face painter gets ready for action.

A face painter gets ready for action.

First Night can't happen without volunteers. The crew at Saugatuck Elementary School included (from left) First Selectman Jim Marpe, his wife Mary Ellen, Rob Hauck and Johanna Rossi.

First Night can’t happen without volunteers. The crew at Saugatuck Elementary School included (from left) First Selectman Jim Marpe, his wife Mary Ellen, Rob Hauck and Johanna Rossi.

Dennis the Train Man is a popular attraction at the library. A retired conductor, he punches a ticket for a very intrigued youngster.

Dennis the Train Man is a popular attraction at the library. The retired conductor punches a ticket for a very intrigued youngster.

The Survivors provided swing music in the Westport Library's Great Hall.

The Survivors provided swing music in the Westport Library’s Great Hall.

Buses provide transportation between downtown and Saugatuck Elementary School. Enjoy the crane -- it won't be there for First Night 2017.

Buses provide transportation between downtown and Saugatuck Elementary School. Enjoy the crane — it won’t be there for First Night 2017.

The Westport Astronomical Society sets up a telescope outside the library. With the sun down now, the viewing is great.

The Westport Astronomical Society sets up a telescope outside the library. With the sun down now, the viewing is better than when this photo was taken.

A mixture of old and new: horse-drawn carriage rides passes Bedford Square construction on Church Lane.

A mixture of old and new: a horse-drawn carriage passes Bedford Square construction on Church Lane.

Barbara Pearson-Rac -- shown here at Town Hall -- is the mastermind behind Westport's First Night.

Barbara Pearson-Rac — shown here at Town Hall — is the mastermind behind Westport’s First Night.

First Night 2016 - program guide

Finding A Dinosaur In The Westport Library

Two years ago, Micki McCabe began printing 3D items at the Westport Library. They accompanied Braille books she — the director of Connecticut Braille Association, based around the corner in the Westport Woman’s Club Imperial Avenue building — had produced.

At the library she met Bradley Snow, and his mother. Bradley — a visually impaired 6th grader at Coleytown Middle School — told Micki of his love for dinosaurs. He’d already created a dinosaur book for Coleytown Elementary School, and learned about 3D printing at the library.

Micki — an educator herself, whose organization helps students pursue special interests outside of the classroom — suggested a dinosaur project. Bradley began keeping a dinosaur journal. She also gave him a book: “Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!” by Connecticut author Kathleen Kudlinski.

Bradley Snow, with an actual dinosaur bone and his 3D replica.

Bradley Snow, with an actual dinosaur bone and his 3D replica.

Kudlinski encouraged a visit to the Peabody Museum in New Haven. Armand Morgan — senior instructor of education — gave Bradley a tour of the paleontology department. It was a thrilling day for the young dinosaur-lover.

The next day, Morgan came to Westport. He met Bradley and Micki at the library’s MakerSpace. He brought a real dinosaur bone — and helped Bradley make a 3D replica of it.

Bradley already knew all the particulars of the bone, along with the dinosaur’s name, and where it was found.

Micki calls the library visit “fun and magical.” Mike Altis gave the small group his undivided attention. When other visitors realized that an actual dinosaur bone was being scanned in their library, they gathered around to watch.

Mike Altis, Bradley Snow and Armand Morgan, at the Westport Library.

Mike Altis, Bradley Snow and Armand Morgan, at the Westport Library.

After it was over, Bradley had a question: Could he volunteer at Connecticut Braille? He loves to help people.

Soon, he’ll be putting together Braille books.

From the Triassic Era to now, and from Coleytown to Yale: Life is all about making connections.

(The project was made possible by a grant to Connecticut Braille Association, from the Norma F. Pfriem Association.)

From A Tiny Acorn…

Several interesting sculptures frame the Westport Library’s lower entrance, near the Riverwalk and Taylor parking lot.

But the most eye-catching of all was created by Mother Nature. A massive oak tree sits on Jesup Green.

The other day, Lynn U. Miller captured it in all its autumnal beauty.

Oak tree near library - Lynn U Miller

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

KHS Votes Westport A Winner

Election Day has come and gone. But for alert “06880” reader Christie Stanger, the good feelings linger. She writes:

On Tuesday, as adults took to the polls, younger Westporters took to the hallways and sidewalks outside of polling places, at bake sales to raise money for schools.

While Kings Highway Elementary is not unique, our adventure highlights what a wonderful town Westport truly is.

When KHS was closed as a voting site, we had to move our Election Day bake sale to the Westport Library. Westport Weston Health District’s Mark Cooper, Norma Jarrett, Sandy Arcudi and Melissa Romano helped us get our permit to sell baked goods. This is not like bake sales of old, but their kindness made the process seem very small-town.

Next, we coordinated with Town Hall. Janet Suchsland and Eileen Francis in the first selectman’s office gave us permission to operate in a public space. The library’s assistant director, Paul Mazzaccaro, allowed us to operate at both entrances. He provided us with tables and chairs, meeting us bright and early on Election Day (and wishing us luck).

Kings Highway Elementary School students, parents and siblings rock the Election Day bake sale at the Westport Library.

Kings Highway Elementary School students, parents and siblings rock the Election Day bake sale at the Westport Library.

And lucky we were! 70 degree weather with blue skies on November 3. That was fabulous — but the people of Westport were even warmer.

Voters, candidates and library patrons stopped by for goods made by loving hands, and others donated by generous businesses (Saugatuck Sweets, Great Cakes, Starbucks and Atlantic Pizza). The number of times we  heard “Keep the change!” and “Let me just give!” gave us warm fuzzies more real than the ones teachers handed out as pencil toppers.

Finally, we did not notice even one person parking outside the lines in either parking lot!

It all added up to one of those magical days, when you’re reminded that people are good and generous, that we are all in this together, and that Westport is an amazing town!

Bye Bye, Bill!

Bill Derry retires tomorrow.

Tonight, the Westport Library honored their talented, creative and very popular “director of innovation.”

Because it’s the day before Halloween, Bill came dressed as a 3D printer.

Bill Derry

It’s not just a random costume.

Bill championed that technology — along with everything else cutting-edge and cool.

All of us — especially the young people he mentored, and who adored him — will miss Bill greatly.

Unless, of course, he clones himself using that 3D printer on his head.

Continuing Conversations On Race

Last spring– after “White Lives Matter” flyers were distributed in town — a few groups sponsored a community conversation on race.

The overflow crowd did not agree on everything. But many attendees said they’d like a follow-up meeting to discuss what life is like for African Americans in Westport and similar communities.

TEAM-Westport-logo2That 2nd conversation on race is set for this Sunday (October 18, 3 p.m., Westport Library). It’s organized by TEAM Westport, the Library and Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy.

The event is headlined by Dr. Susan Toliver, chair of the sociology department at Iona College and an expert on multiculturalism. It includes a panel, moderated by Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The ideas expressed on Sunday may be difficult for some.

Ignoring them, though, is far tougher

MakerSpace: 3 Years Old (And 3.0)

It’s a toss-up who’s more passionated about the MakerSpace: Bill Derry, or the thousands of people of all ages who have embraced it as their own.

Derry is the Westport Library’s director of innovation. The MakerSpace is the large area in its Great Hall where an eclectic, ever-changing group gathers for creation, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

The Westport Library's Makerspace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

The Library’s MakerSpace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

Many folks — devoted users and head-scratching passersby alike — see technology and construction in the MakerSpace, and think of it as a place for “things.” But it’s also a tight-knit community — and a place where lives are changed.

Age does not matter there. Youngsters teach adults — including some old enough to be their great-grandparents — how to use 3-D printers and gaming consoles. Doing so, they gain important skills like public speaking. By thinking about how to teach, they crystallize their own ideas.

They also gain plenty of confidence.

A middle school MakerSpace aficionado spent 2 days teaching librarians how to create and print 3D models.

An older teenager built a gaming computer in front of an audience, then was invited to teach (for pay) at Southern Connecticut State University.

A boy who has difficulty speaking stands eagerly in front of an inter-generational audience. His speech problem vanishes at the MakerSpace.

Young people teach -- and learn from -- older ones in the MakerSpace.

Young people teach — and learn from — older ones in the MakerSpace.

That collaborative, across-age-lines sharing excites Derry. “Big companies talk about new ways of working — bringing together a musician and an engineer, for example,” the innovation guru says.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

The MakerSpace has been around long enough — 3 years — that some of its most avid users have moved on. One is studying engineering at NYU; another attends Lehigh University.

“It’s like any graduation,” Derry says. “We’re sad to see them go, and there’s a real feeling of leaving a community. But we’re happy they’re in a new and challenging place.”

MakerSpace users are not the only ones leaving the Westport Library. On October 31, Derry himself retires.

Bill Derry

Bill Derry

He’s had an “incredible” run, he says. His fulfilling career at the Library followed 3 years as information technology coordinator for the Westport school system, and 6 as library media coordinator at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Now he’s ready for the next challenge.

Before he goes though, there’s one more big event. On Thursday and Friday, September 24-25, the Westport Library sponsors “MakerSpace 3.0: Retinkering Libraries.” Panels will focus on imagination, education, economic development, and community engagement. On Saturday, September 26, there’s an optional bus trip to the New York World Maker Faire.

The public is invited to the bus trip (registration required). Including, of course, all the young people who make the MakerSpace such an exciting and innovative place.

Virtually Oculus

Two months ago, the Westport Library bought an Oculus Rift. They lacked a computer with a graphics card big enough for the virtual reality headset that generates a crazy, immersive virtual world — but that’s the way the library rolls.

The Rift was about to hit the general consumer market. Library staffers knew it would be big. They snagged one of the last 2nd-generation developers’ kits. Then they went to work, figuring out what to do with it.

Nate Allen — a Maker Space volunteer who’s home-schooled in Fairfield — put the appropriate computer pieces together. (I asked him if it took all summer. Nope: 2 hours.)

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

The other day, I took it for a test drive. I’d never donned a virtual reality headset before — I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer — but despite a warning from Alex Giannini, the library’s manager of digital experience, that I might get nauseous, I opted for the Rift’s rollercoaster ride.

I have to say: It’s pretty freakin’ cool. I zoomed up, down and through some crazy Alice in Wonderland-type scenes. But with the Rift, I also looked all around — even over my shoulder — and became immersed in some great virtual reality scenes.

The Rift will be available for everyone 13 and up. But, Alex knows, the core demographic is teenagers.

“That’s great,” he says. “This will get them to the library. They’ll play video games, but they’ll stay to help out. Maybe it will inspire some of them to get into developing games too.”

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Rift will be unveiled Labor Day weekend, at the library’s Blues, Views & BBQ booth. Later this fall it will be used as part of the library’s Teen Gaming Night.

Alex loves the Rift. “It’s so far beyond previous generations of virtual reality, I can’t even describe it,” he says. “We’re on the verge of something huge.”

As usual, the Westport Library leads the way.