NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana --
The planting of cherry blossom trees originated in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States from the people of Japan. In Japan, the flowering cherry blossom tree, or "sakura," is a prized flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages, according to the National Park Service. For Lt. Col. Eric Terashima, the assistant chief of staff for operations and future operations with Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, the cherry blossom symbolizes his family’s legacy in America – a legacy of endurance, forgiveness and pride.
In early 2013, Terashima visited the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia, with his father. When leaving the museum, Terashima talked with his father about donating a cherry blossom tree to the museum to honor the Marine Corps’ history with the Japanese people.
After talking the idea over with the museum’s president, Terashima decided that he wanted to line the driveway leading to the parking lot with cherry blossom trees from October to December that same year. His reason for donating the trees leads back to his family’s history while living in America and Japan.
“The same civil liberties have been given to us as just about everyone over the past 70 years: military desegregation, equal opportunity for education and jobs, and the ability to buy land,” said Terashima. “I wanted to give back to the Marine Corps and the United States that signifies something bigger than myself.”
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, Terashima’s family, the Shimonishi family at the time, was forced from their home in southern California and moved into camps during the internment of Japanese-Americans. Along with the Shimonishi family, more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were moved to these camps.
Terashima’s grandmother, Mili Shimonishi, who is now 101 years old, endured the camps for several years after Pearl Harbor, while also caring for her four children. After being released from the camps, the Shimonishi family traveled back to Japan and settled onto a small farm and began work. After years of hard work on the farm, Shimonishi found a job working on what now is Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan.
While working at the base, Shimonishi was surrounded by American people and culture. In 1958, while Shimonishi was watching the American movie, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, she remembered why she loved America in the first place. With her love of the United States driving her thoughts, she packed up her four children and moved back to southern California.
Throughout the years, the Shimonishi and Terashima family have endured many obstacles to get to where they are today.
“Just the fact that we went from being poor farmers in Japan to me being commissioned and promoted to lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, shows how strong my grandmother is,” said Terashima. “The Marine Corps has given me a lot and sometimes you just have to give back and show your appreciation.”