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Veteran’s ‘Wish of a Lifetime’ to Reconnect With Late Brother’s Family

After being detained by the U.S. during WWII, Toki Endo and his brother made a pact to enlist

spinner image Left, toki endo receives a medal during the vietnam war. Right, toki wears a suit with his medals pinned to it in present day.
Toki Endo receives his first Air Medal during the Vietnam War. Today, after flying hundreds of missions, he has accumulated numerous military accolades.
Courtesy Toki Endo

When he was 4 years old, Toki Endo and his family were forced to leave their hometown of Salinas, California, for a World War II internment camp. Although he and his parents were born in the U.S., the Endos were confined because of their ethnicity as Japanese Americans.

As a result of the feelings of shame the detainment brought to their family, Toki and his older brother, Nori, made a pact to prove they were faithful citizens.

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“I wanted to show our family was a patriotic American family and worthy of citizenship,” said Toki, 87.

Their answer was to enlist in the military when they became adults during the Vietnam War. Nori joined the Navy as an attack pilot, and Toki served as a B-52 electronic warfare officer in the Air Force. Both brothers had distinguished military tenures.

As they got older, they slowly drifted apart due to diverging career paths and the physical toll Agent Orange took on their health. Nori died in 2013 at the age of 78. Today, Toki longs to reunite with his late brother’s family, an antidote to his feelings of disconnection and isolation.

“The U.S. military once caused our family loss of honor, great shame and health, but that same U.S. military provided us a way to restore our family's honor,” Toki said.

spinner image Left, young toki and nori smile for a photo with their father. Right, nori gets into a plane before a military mission.
(Left) Toki with his older brother Nori Endo and their father. (Right) Nori preparing to pilot one of many missions.
Courtesy Toki Endo

A brotherly bond

Although the brothers pursued different paths within the military, their careers shared a common thread: aviation. This passion had deep roots in their childhood, particularly for Nori, who was fascinated with airplanes.

“Nori was hooked on airplanes at a young age. When he was in grade school, all he ever wanted for his birthdays or Christmas were these balsa wood model kits,” Toki said. “He would work on gluing all the balsa wood parts and put on the tissue covering. He would finally fly these rubber band–powered kits with a big smile on his face.”

Though their military duties separated them geographically, their shared dedication to serving their country and their love for aviation forged a bond that transcended the physical distances between them. They found ways to support each other when they were apart.

During a bomb run near the coast of South Vietnam, two fully armed B-52s collided in midair, resulting in the deaths of three of Toki’s crew members. Amid the chaos, Toki ejected himself from his aircraft, losing his survival kit as he was stranded in the waters near the mouth of the Mekong River delta.

After learning that his brother had lost his survival kit, Nori took it upon himself to design a vest tailored to Toki’s slight build. Toki wore this custom-made vest for several years during his combat missions until the Air Force began producing its own.

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By the end of their military careers, both brothers had amassed impressive records flying hundreds of missions over Vietnam, and they were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses and Air Medals, among other accolades.

Toki’s wish

The last time Toki saw his brother’s family was at Nori’s funeral more than 10 years ago. This summer, he plans to reunite with four generations of family members, including his nieces, nephews and sister-in-law, who will join him in California for a week of shared stories and heartfelt reconnection.

spinner image toki endo's military medals sit in a shadowbox.
Toki Endo proudly displays many of his military achievements in a shadowbox.
Courtesy Toki Endo

Toki said he hopes they will meld again as a family and the children will learn they “have each other’s back.”

“I would express my most profound thank you to granting our family the Wish of a Lifetime so as to allow us to become a family in more than just name but reestablishing and strengthening bonds within our family,” he said.

Support Toki and wish recipients like him by donating to Wish of a Lifetime.

As a charitable affiliate of AARP, Wish of a Lifetime grants life-changing wishes to older adults and inspires people to redefine aging in America.

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