A Nisei garden of memories in SeaTac, and a soldier’s blood spilled in WWII

Every Thursday morning, an elderly couple spends a few hours weeding and tidying up the Seike Japanese Garden in SeaTac. It means a lot to Hal Seike, 90, the last surviving of three brothers. The garden is dedicated to his brother, Toll, a Nisei killed at age 21 in World War II.

At age 90, he’s the last remaining of the three Seike brothers.

Every Thursday morning, Hal Seike and his wife, Fran, 87, make the 1-mile drive from their home to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden. It might seem unusual to have a botanical garden beneath a constant stream of jet takeoffs and landings, but there it is.

At their age, they’re still relatively nimble, able to drive and able to spend three or so hours once a week pulling weeds and raking leaves. They’ve been married 61 years.

Each time they visit, they walk past a large wooden board marking the “Seike Japanese Garden,” which occupies maybe an acre of the botanical site.

Prominent on that board is a black-and-white photo of a young Army soldier. That’s Toll Seike, the middle of the three brothers. They were all Nisei, meaning U.S.-born children of Japanese immigrants. The garden is a tribute to him.

Toll was 21 when he was killed Oct. 29, 1944, in a horrific battle near Bruyères, France.

In history books it is known as the “Rescue of the Lost Battalion.” While most Americans likely have never heard of it, a Department of Defense article calls it “one of the great ground battles of World War II.”

Each Thursday, 90-year-old veteran Hal Seike and his wife Fran, 87, tend to the Seike Japanese Garden: a memorial, a haven and – for Hal – a reason to keep going after a life of intense adversity. (Ellen M. Banner & Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

Says Hal about the garden: “We go there rain or shine, drenched to the bone. I’ve been out there in the snow. I’m really kind of sentimental about it. That’s my family name on it.”

A garden has to be tended, especially a Japanese garden, an enchanting creation of specially placed rocks, a pond with a bridge, Japanese maples, sculptured black pines and a variety of shrubbery.

Upkeep of the entire botanical garden, owned by a nonprofit foundation, is done by volunteers, and they’re scarce.

Battlefield heroism

Toll Seike was a private in the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans, that during the war totaled 18,000 men.

Its motto was “Go For…

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