Viking Valor Robert “Bob” Yano
By Viking Voice Staff Writer Kirandeep Klair
Valor means to have great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle. The recipient of this month’s Viking Valor award is Bob Yano. During World War II, Yano served on the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). The RCT became the most decorated unit in United States military history for its size and length of service.
Born Robert Lee Yano, this KHS alumni is known to the community as Bob Yano. Throughout his life, Yano faced a number of challenges and has seen a great deal. Yano spoke daily at the Courage and Compassion exhibit held recently at the Historical Park in Kingsburg. Yano is a very positive man and shares about his past to educate the youth in the Central Valley.
Being of Japanese descent, Yano witnessed a great deal of change as a young adult. This change played a great role in who he is today and why he continues to speak about his experiences.
Born in 1924, Yano was raised on a farm in Kingsburg. He graduated from KHS in 1942. During his senior year of high school, World War II began. Nothing prepared Yano for the changes that were to take place.
Prior to the war, Yano described himself as the all-American boy. He was very social and highly involved at KHS. Yano’s passions were in sports and agriculture. He worked on his family farm and enjoyed playing numerous high school sports. He participated in football, basketball, track, and the Future Farmers of America club (FFA). In his senior year, Yano was a member of the “K”Club, which was an elite group of only twenty-three athletes that played in one or more sports at the varsity level.
In 1942, during his senior year of high school, Yano began to face the obstacles that came with being of Japanese descent. He described this as a painful time, unable to understand the world around him. It was his last year at KHS, and he learned that in a few months time his family would have to evacuate to a relocation center. Yano suddenly went from being an all-around American boy with many friends, to being all alone and alienated. It was hard to understand why the friends he knew so well no longer spoke with him or reached out to him. Years later, Yano understood that there was a lot of fear. Many people did not know how to react to Japanese-American citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Having said that, Yano does remember the many wonderful community members who showed love towards his family and others of Japanese descent. Many of these people helped their Japanese-American neighbors by keeping their things safe and maintaining their land for them when they had to evacuate to the internment camps. Yano is very thankful to these people and will always remember them.
On August 4, 1942, Yano and his family, including his father, two brothers, and three cousins, were ordered to evacuate their home in Kingsburg. Yano’s mother and aunt were in Japan visiting family prior to the start of the war; they were unable to return home to Kingsburg before the evacuation.
The Yano family was sent to Gila River War Relocation Center, an internment camp in Arizona. It was one of several built for the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Although the camp operated from 1942 to 1945, Yano was only there for a short time. Like many young Japanese-American men in the camps, the Yano brothers were eager to demonstrate their loyalty to their country, and demonstrate to those around them that they were just as “American” as anyone else.
Yano explained, “I wanted to go and prove that I’m a good American. That my blood was as red as any other American. It was important to demonstrate my loyalty to Americans outside the camp as well as to those in the camp.”
Yano served on the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). The 442nd Regimental Combat Team performed many heroic actions and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. This team worked well together, and many soldiers earned several badges and medals of honor for their heroism and combat records. Yano, along with others on the team, wore the campaign ribbon with four stars on his uniform. Each star represented a major battle won. These men faced a very difficult time in their lives and served our country well.
The military gave Yano a sense of confidence. He explained, “I felt that I did my share. If someone said something, I could come back and say, ‘I fought for this country, what did you do?’”
When asked what kept him going through the hard times during the war, Yano answered that there were two things, his mother who he hadn’t seen for a long time, and the motto “Go for broke.”
Yano shared that it was thoughts of his mother that kept him going through the war. He looked forward to coming home to her, thinking of her constantly. Yano described his mother as, “the glue that held everything together.” She was a very dedicated woman, who was always working hard for the family. Yano stated that part of the reason he was so driven to work hard during his time in war was the thought of returning home and making life easier for his mother. He wanted to take care of his parents the way they had taken care of him.; however, when Yano returned home he learned of his mother’s death in Japan and that she was never able to make it back to Kingsburg. It was a great struggle learning he had lost someone so dear to him, and he remembered he had a hard time moving forward without her in his life.
“Go for broke,” the 442nd’s motto, was also something that kept Yano going through the hard times during war. “Go for broke” meant to never give up. Yano explained, “Even if it means to sacrifice your life, give everything you have, physically and mentally. Don’t give up and be positive. If you’re negative, you cannot accomplish anything. You have to give all you’ve got. Be the best that you can be. It’s just what you have to do.” This motto has helped Yano when he encounters obstacles, and it represents Yano’s strong personal beliefs regarding the importance of endurance and staying positive.
Shortly after Yano returned from the war, he met his wife and married her. He returned to his occupation as a farmer, which he describes as a “one-man operation.” Yano has two children, a daughter and a son, and five grandchildren.
Yano’s daughter, Chris, shared that her father always taught her and her brother, Randy, the motto “Go for broke.” It was difficult for both Chris and her brother to understand how their parents, both American citizens, could be incarcerated and sent to camps. Chris’ parents explained that the best way to restore things is through forgiveness. Violence or hatred towards the government would not help anyone. They believed the best way to fight back is through education. It is important to serve as an excellent role model because it makes someone a true American.
For many years, Yano and his wife would visit high schools in the Central Valley to share their past experiences. Although Yano was only in the internment camp for a short time, his wife had been in the camp for the entirety of war. Both shared their struggles and what they learned from the difficulties that they had to endure. Yano and his wife believed that education is the key for not allowing this to happen again.
Yano lost his wife about ten years ago. He explained that after her passing he thought he would stop visiting schools and finally settle down a bit; however, Yano also knew of the need to teach youth the valuable lessons he learned. To this day, Bob Yano still visits any group that is willing to hear his story, including schools, churches, and members of several communities in the Central Valley. Yano recently spoke with visitors at the Courage and Compassion Exhibit held at the Kingsburg Historical Park. He attended daily and was there all hours that it was open. In fact, Yano spent his 94th birthday there, educating and speaking to many people.
Yano’s advice to Kingsburg’s youth is, “Go to the nice people. After going through what I did, I’ve learned that you can’t satisfy everyone. Look for the good, because there are a lot of good people. Trust me, there are more nice people than bad people. So, don’t waste your positive time and don’t ever let the bad ones bother you.”
Bob Yano serves as an inspiration to all and is an excellent role model for the Kingsburg community. He is the image of hard work, dedication, humility, and optimism. Yano’s selfless nature and compassion make him well deserving of this month’s Viking Valor Award.