The Omaha North High 50-year reunion last weekend included a student who became a Japanese ambassador, Tetsuo Ito.
In the 1961-62 school year, students just called the exchange student “Tex.”
Roger Baumann remembers sharing a bedroom with him at home.
“We had a fast friendship and became great pals,” Roger said. “We'd go out in the driveway and shoot hoops on the garage.”
They have stayed in touch, so much so that Tex calls Roger “my American brother.”
He also has a name for Roger's mother, Louise Bloom Baumann, whose 90th birthday was celebrated last weekend: “Mom.”
How important is his relationship with the Baumann family?
“The fact that I came for this reunion and for Mom's birthday shows,” Tetsuo said. “It was very important to see the family at this stage.”
And it was good to see former classmates at events Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in Omaha, finishing up with a rock 'n' roll band at the German-American Society on South 120th Street.
Said Roger: “He hardly had a quiet moment all three nights.”
Louise recalls the year hosting an exchange student as “a very interesting experience, educational on both sides. Tetsuo got along fine in school with all the kids, and we had a wonderful time.”
Attending high school football and basketball games was a new experience for Tex. He also was a serious student who joined clubs and student government.
The weekend hangout was Mister C's, where you could order hamburgers from a car on a speaker phone. He remembers bowling, sock hops and dances at Peony Park. The theme for a senior dinner-dance, in his honor, was “Sayonara.”
Back in Japan, he later earned a law degree and entered the diplomatic corps. After postings in Paris, Brussels, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, London and Geneva, Tetsuo Ito became Japanese ambassador to Senegal and five nearby African countries.
In later years, he became a law professor and, at 68, still teaches part time. Married, with two daughters and two grandsons, he never forgot his Omaha family and has returned about five times.
Roger lived for a time in Sweden, and visited his friend when he was stationed in Paris. After a career with IBM, Roger moved to the Minneapolis area as executive director of the Swedish Council of America. Tetsuo visited there two years ago.
Some of the Omaha haunts from high school are gone, such as Mister C's and Peony Park, and so is Rufus Baumann, Louise's husband, who died a few years ago. But the ties to Tetsuo's senior year of high school remain strong — reinvigorated with a weekend of smiles, laughter and reliving old memories.
Exchange programs and sister-city relationships in the years after World War II helped forge new relationships between World War II enemies Japan and America.
Tetsuo, whose father was an engineer in the Japanese military, was born in 1943 about 20 miles from Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.
As a former diplomat and professor of international law, he said he believes the bomb was inhumane because it was dropped on a civilian center, not a military target. Japan, he said, was close to surrender.
U.S. leaders said the bombing hastened the end of the war and saved many thousands of American lives that would have been lost in an impending invasion of Japan. A 2005 Gallup Poll indicated that 57 percent of Americans approved of the bombing and 38 percent disapproved, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
America has fought wars since then, and the Axis enemies of the 1940s, Germany and Japan, are today's longtime friends.
Growing up, Tetsuo took six years of English classes and learned of the student exchange program though an American minister in a Bible class.
“In those days after the war, it was not common to travel abroad,” he said. “But I was eager to know about other countries, especially the U.S.
“My parents didn't disapprove. After the war, America led the world in democracy and freedom.”
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