PROFILE OF A MUSEUM VOLUNTEER
Denny Hirakawa was born November 17, 1944 at the Gila River Relocation Camp where his parents Tom and Kikuye had met and married. The Center was built on the Gila River Indian Reservation southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. After the war the family returned to their farm in Parlier, California where a brother Paul and a sister Stacy were born.
Denny attended Parlier K-12 schools and upon graduation, enrolled at Reedley College majoring in general agriculture. He played football a couple seasons for the Reedley Tigers where he played a very memorable game against John Madden at Hancock College in Santa Maria. They lost that game!!!! Denny then enrolled at Fresno State College, majoring in Viticulture; graduating in January, 1967.
Upon graduation the Draft Board was notified and Denny was inducted in to the Army at the H Street Center in June, 1967. In the interim between January and June, he was able to sign up with an additional year to do maintenance on the UH-1 "Huey" helicopter. June, July and August was spent at Fort Polk, Louisiana...hot and humid, the ARMPIT of the United States. September, October and November was advance schooling at the Aviation School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where it was beautiful with the coming of fall. After graduation and a one month leave, Denny reported January 7, 1968 to the Army base for duty in Vietnam. Assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade, they were sent to Vinh Long Army Airfield on the Mekong river; a warm and humid area with a tropical feel. It could be a beautiful vacation spot if it weren't for the war. Denny spent his entire tour of Vietnam at Vinh Long. His R and R was taken in Tokyo where he spent five November days and nights. His one and only phone call in Tokyo was made to his folks back home.
Upon completion of his one year in Vietnam (366 days as 1968 was a Leap Year) Denny was assigned back to Fort Eustis. He spent his remaining time in the Army as an instructor, teaching newbie's maintenance on the Huey. Being only a couple hours drive from Washington, DC, his off duty time was spent visiting that area, the tidewaters of southern Virginia and the coastal areas around Norfolk. Denny was honorably discharged June 10, 1970.
Honorable discharge meant veterans benefits, and Denny returned to Fresno State for more schooling. He received $160.00 a month as long as he was able to maintain passing grades in twelve units. He completed a minor in biology and took a lot of elective type (fun or Mickey Mouse courses). Two summer breaks were spent on the fire crew in Yosemite National Park. Being a veteran was a big PLUS on getting that job.
Real World, Real Job: Denny's first jobs were with farmers and ranchers in the Sanger, California area. He then worked on a Thoroughbred Racing farm in the Sunnyside - Lone Star area where he met a blacksmith, Floyd Boss. He worked with and apprenticed under Floyd for five years learning the horseshoeing trade. He continued in that business for over thirty years and has never looked back. Denny has met a lot of great people in the horse industry.
Denny and Mindy (the joy in his life) met on a skiing outing to China Peak; a kind of "blind date". They were married in May, 1987 at Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe, NV. They have no children, but have rescued and raised countless dogs, cats and horses. Mindy currently works at Community Reginal Medical Center in downtown Fresno, and loves her job.
With the downturn of the economy in 2005, Denny turned his direction towards volunteerism. He began with tending the rose gardens at the Fresno Veterans Hospital and Nursing home. He then joined the volunteers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, at Fresno City Hall and at UCSF Memory Center. Being a veteran gave Denny the opportunity to join Nancy Hinds Hospice - Veteran for Veteran program. He is now giving time to the Veterans Memorial Museum, "Home of the Legion of Valor" fulfilling an enormous dedication to giving back to his fellow veterans and his community. As Denny reflects back, volunteering has given him that "Welcome Home" that had been missing the last fifty years since Vietnam. So many Thank-You handshakes and pats on the back from all. Such a great feeling here at the museum. Helping guys and gals in keeping alive the memories of what has happened in the past to keep the USA the greatest power on earth.