A Veterans Day Tribute

By Megan O’Malley (’17) & Kate Vanskike

This Veterans Day, we share the stories of three Zags who served in three different wars. 

Fred Shiosaki (’49) – World War II

Shiosaki 1

In 2015, Shiosaki was among several Washington veterans honored by Legacy Washington’s WWII exhibit, marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.  Titled “Washington Remembers,” the exhibit was erected in the Capitol Building in Olympia. Following is an except from a full interview you can read here: Washington Remembers.

Before Fred Shiosaki ever stepped into a war zone, he fought a battle fraught with prejudice.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Shiosaki’s Japanese American ethnicity was considered a mark of the enemy. Only 18 years old at the time of the attack, he enrolled at Gonzaga University, a short bus ride from his Spokane home.

“By spring, I was flunking out of college. I don’t think I passed anything,” he says. “Can you imagine being 18 years old in the middle of a war where you looked like the enemy and didn’t know what to do next?”

When he heard about the new Japanese American infantry outfit, Shiosaki left school and joined the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was embraced by the brotherhood of this unit, and together, they heroically faced the dangerous mission of rescuing the ‘Lost Battalion,’ one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military history.

Dubbed the “Go For Broke” unit, they pushed back against discrimination and became the most decorated unit in American military history with 21 Medals of Honor and 10,000 Purple Hearts. Shiosaki himself was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Shiosaki 2 WashingtonRemembers_AUG2015_00943

Shiosaki and his wife read his story at the Washington Remembers exhibit in Olympia’s Capitol Building. (Photo courtesy, Office of the Secretary of State)

After his service, he returned to Gonzaga on the GI bill and graduated with a degree in chemistry. Soon after, he married his girlfriend, Lily, and they began to raise a family.  After working as a chemist for the City of Spokane’s Health Department, he became a passionate advocate for environmental issues. Now in their 90s, the Shiosakis live in Seattle and watch every Gonzaga basketball game.

Roger Johnson (’66) – Vietnam

Roger Johnson should have walked the commencement stage in 1966, but that didn’t happen until nearly 50 years later.

Johnson finished his studies in psychology at Gonzaga in time to graduate in January 1966. That winter, instead of entering the workforce with a fresh degree, Johnson would leave the snow-laden campus of Gonzaga for Fort Benning, Georgia, where he trained as a paratrooper, learning to jump from planes in a time of war.

Like so many other veterans of the Vietnam War, Johnson can recall every horrific detail of his time on the ground.

Vietnam. (photo provided by Roger Johnson)
Vietnam. (Photo credit: Roger Johnson)

“I was ambushed in a search-and-destroy op by the North Vietnamese,” he shares.  “My counterpart bled to death next to me, my helmet was blown off, bombs went off and I remember it showering down on us.”

Johnson remembers every detail, and has shared it with us here.

Back at home, safe and sound, Johnson received numerous military honors, including the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and more.  He became a financial broker with giants like E.F. Hutton and A.G. Edwards, then founded his own wealth management company, Summa Global Advisors, LLC.

“I attribute my success in the military and in life to my experience at Gonzaga,” Johnson says.

But even as a successful businessman, who is actively engaged in supporting his Oregon communities by serving on many boards to address education, crime and music, something was still missing from Johnson’s life.  He had never walked the commencement stage at his alma mater . . .

. . . Until May 10, 2015, when the 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and hero joined the 942 fresh-faced 20-somethings marching to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” at Gonzaga’s undergraduate commencement.

“It was very gratifying,” says Johnson, “to see all the young kids there, just starting out in adulthood.  To listen to the speech.  The whole sense of the graduation experience was very meaningful.

“For me, it completed the full circle.”

Jason Chavez (’18) – Afghanistan

Jason Chavez enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school and served as an 0861 Fire Support Man out of Camp Pendleton, California. His first deployment took him to Guam, Indonesia, Singapore, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, Thailand, Japan and Oahu, where he trained with foreign militaries and helped with community outreach, like painting an orphanage in Thailand. His second was far less enjoyable.

In Helmand Province, Afghanistan, an area that saw some of the heaviest fighting in the war, Chavez served in a dismounted infantry platoon. They saw parts of the country that most Americans will never see.

“I lost five friends there. The war is still with me, but for their sake, I will achieve everything I can and live my life as best as I can. The war, whether right or wrong, showed me how evil and cold mankind can be – but even there, I found the best of us in my friends who couldn’t come home,” he said.

After Chavez completed active duty, he picked up where he left off before entering the service.  He started hiking and fishing again and even enrolled in the local community college. Later, he settled in Spokane, where he is working construction and attending Gonzaga, earning a degree in business management.

When he graduates in 2018, Chavez intends to put his mind to work for the Veterans Administration or rejoin the Marine Corps as an officer. Either way, he intends to do something meaningful that helps others.

“When the time comes in my life where I can give back to someone in my position, I will remember the great gift given to me and return the favor.”


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