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Letter to the Editor: In response to last week’s news cover

Letter to the Editor: In response to last week’s news cover
9:15 am PST February 15, 2017

Your touching article inspired me to reflect upon my life and to honor four Japanese-American scientists, mentors, collaborators and friends who played key roles in my development and maturation as a scientist.

I owe a debt of gratitude to these special people, who were there for me at four key stages of my life and career.

Robin Okinishi taught me electronics and amateur radio in the early ‘60s and hired me as an engineer upon entering college — my first job in advanced technology. Shortly after the U.S. entered WWII against Japan, Robin’s family was displaced from his childhood home in Kauai to a Japanese Internment camp in Arkansas, some 4,000 miles away — a huge distance “justified” by our government, since Robin’s father was a ham radio operator.

The late Dr. Doug Tanimoto hired me as a physicist in the laser department at Hughes Aircraft during my graduate years at Caltech. He also supported me as a Hughes Masters Fellow. Doug was instrumental in supporting my transition from Hughes Aircraft in Culver City to the world-famous Hughes Research Laboratories (now, HRL Labs) in Malibu. During WWII, his family was sent to a Japanese Internment camp (most likely the Gila River retention center, in Arizona). 

The late Dr. Charles Asawa was my first boss and mentor at HRL. He also supported my being hiring at HRL in the laser department, and supporting me as a Hughes Doctoral Fellow at Caltech. (Interestingly, Charlie played an active role in demonstrating the world’s first laser at HRL in 1960.) Charlie also played a key role in my maturation as a laser physicist. Unfortunately, shortly after the Presidential Executive Order of February, 1942, Charlie’s family was displaced from their Los Angeles home and transferred to a Japanese Internment camp in Arkansas.

Dr. David Sumida was my lab collaborator, co-author and co-inventor on various photonics programs at HRL prior to retiring. Unfortunately, after the start of WWII, David’s father and paternal grandparents lost several hotels they ran in Oregon. They were then sent to a Japanese Internment camp in Idaho.

As an offspring of holocaust survivors, I can relate to, and appreciate, the inhumane sacrifices that Robin, Doug, Charlie, David and their respective families were forced to make, even as proud U.S. citizens.

I am grateful and thankful to my Japanese-American friends and colleagues, who have supported me over 50 years of my life as a scientist.

David Pepper, Malibu resident