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East LA WWII veteran remembered for bringing home Japanese neighbor

Albert Morales standing in front of a little store kind of like the one his neighbors, a Japanese family. owned.
Albert Morales standing in front of a little store kind of like the one his neighbors, a Japanese family. owned.
Molly Peterson / KPCC

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Each year in East LA’s Boyle Heights, Mexican American veterans, their families, and politicians gather to remember Latino combat vets. KPCC’s Molly Peterson shares this story from one World War Two veteran whose experience at home and abroad reflects his home turf. 

Before the ceremony at Cinco Puntos, I met Albert F. Morales. He grew up in Boyle Heights and went to Belvedere Junior High School.

"I lived in East LA on Fisher between Eastern and Humphries. And there was a Japanese market around the corner from where we lived and this couple had one child. He was about 7 years old at that time," Morales, 92, now a resident of Pico Rivera, says.

The boy’s name was Santoshi, Morales says. His parents worked round the clock, and Morales remembers that the Japanese boy stayed often with a Mexican family in the neighborhood.

"June of 1941 the father sent the kid to Japan. He couldn’t speak Japanese, couldn’t speak English because he lived with a Mexican family," Morales remembers.

After Pearl Harbor Morales enlisted in the Marines. One of his brothers joined the Navy three years later. His older brother joined the Army.

"He went to Japan. The US had dropped the A-Bomb. People were running across the street, half naked, no shoes no nothing," Morales says.

As the war drew to an end, Morales’ brother stood with other Army soldiers in a busy Japanese street. Morales says, amid the devastation, separated by army trucks whizzing by, his brother recognized a young boy.

"He says that kid looks like Santoshi. Then my brother hollered at him again, waved his hands. The kid crossed the street, no shoes, nothing. Tu me conoces a mi? Yeah, your name is Santoshi, isn’t it? Yeah. Your mother and father has a store in East LA in the street and everything? Yeah. So he took him to the Red Cross and told ‘em, 'this kid is an American citizen'. So my brother got him back home, four years later. By that time the kid was about 11 years old," says Morales.

Morales' wife Joy Diane, died last year. His brothers are dead. He doesn’t know where Santoshi is now. He says he’s grateful that the destruction visited on Japan never reached California. He wishes that more people felt the same way.