By Genevieve A. Suzuki
Everyone has a circle of individuals who have a serious effect on their lives. If you’re lucky, you’re like me and have at least one Gregg Abe in that group.
Mr. Abe was my high school band teacher from the middle of my junior year through graduation.
During high school, band gave me a place to belong. I loved the camaraderie and the concerts for our communities. It was everything to me and helped me get through the angst of my teen years.
I remember when I first called Mr. Abe to ask him if he could help me move to Roosevelt High School so I could play in his band. His stellar reputation as a band teacher convinced me he could help me grow as a musician.
Pardon me while I break my arm patting myself on the back: I was right. In fact, Mr. Abe continues to help me and my classmates grow decades later, not just as musicians, but as people.
Thanks to social media, many of us are still in touch with Mr. Abe. We follow his posts about the new marching band seasons, his induction into Bandworld’s Legion of Honor, and Roosevelt High School Symphonic Band’s triumphant performance this year at Carnegie Hall.
The other day, however, Mr. Abe became a viral sensation for something other than his musical skills.
A week ago, I was tagged with fellow classmates, on a video post by “Caught in Providence,” a courtroom reality show in which people have their traffic and parking cases and criminal arraignments heard in Providence Municipal Court by Chief Municipal Judge Frank Caprio. The tagged video was labeled “Hawaii Loves Veterans.”
Apparently, Judge Caprio received a letter from a “Gregg Abe,” a band teacher at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mr. Abe had sent a $30 check to the court to help out a veteran who could use the assistance. Judge Caprio applied the money toward a Vietnam War vet who had run a red light after receiving treatment at the local VA. Mr. Abe was motivated to help by his desire to honor his father’s service in the military during World War II.
Before declining to charge the vet, the judge read a part of Mr. Abe’s letter: “Every chance I get, I always thank every veteran that I see. At times, I even pay for their meals anonymously,” wrote Mr. Abe in a letter he never believed would see the light of day, much less hundreds of thousands of views.
“We’re gonna honor [Mr. Abe] by charging you $30 court costs,” said Judge Caprio. “We’re gonna use Mr. Abe’s check to honor him and his father’s service in the court.”
When I called Mr. Abe to discuss his new fame, he said he was embarrassed about the attention. “I didn’t think they were going to read the letter on air. It was something so small, just a token of appreciation for what vets have done,” he said.
Mr. Abe further explained his actions by telling me he never got to tell his dad how much he admired him for serving his country during World War II, a time when Japanese Americans had been declared enemies of the state. His father, Charles Sadaichi Abe, had served in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s F Company.
“My dad never wanted to talk about it so it just kind of went unsaid. I wish I had told him how much I appreciated his service before he died [in 2007],” Mr. Abe said.
Since the senior Abe’s death, his son, Gregg, has been trying to honor his dad’s memory with small acts of gratitude. Picking up the tab here, a letter to a traffic court there, Mr. Abe has likely already surpassed what most of us would deem sufficient thanks. I told him I believe his dad knows about his good work and that in itself is the highest commendation for a father.
Mr. Abe has always been a teacher who leads by doing so let’s take a lesson from his playbook and remember to thank our veterans and service people for their willingness to sacrifice their lives for our own. We don’t have to wait for Memorial Day or Veterans Day to celebrate the brave men and women who fight for our rights as Americans.
— Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.