By Assunta Ng
What do the late Seattle City Councilmember Wing Luke (Asian) and Admiral Herb Bridge (not Asian), have in common?
They both fostered communities, found strengths in others and created goodwill and harmony out of chaos and hate.
“Wing Luke and Herb Bridge were both members of the Greatest Generation,” said former Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland.
Both were born in 1925; Wing in February and Jewish American Herb on Mar. 14. Coincidentally, both birthday celebrations were held on Mar. 14, the same day, and in a museum: Wing’s 90th birthday celebration at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in the afternoon, and Herb’s 90th surprise party in the evening at the Museum of History and Industry MOHAI.
Faith and I were the only ones who attended both events.
“They were exceptional patriots,” said Faith. “Herb Bridge rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Wing Luke served in Guam, Korea, New Guinea, New Britain, and the Philippines where he received the Bronze star.
They were both minorities, Herb a Jew, Wing, Chinese. Herb was born into a successful, assimilated family…They both valued their heritage. Herb, ‘Mr. Downtown,’ embodied leadership among businessmen and civic activists, promoting education, equality, diversity and philanthropy.
“…More than anything to me they shared the quality of being gentlemen warriors of the highest order, fierce but calm, visionary, generous, forgiving and loving,” said Faith.
“Surprise!” shouted 400 family and friends to Herb when he entered the museum. Then a chorus of “Happy Birthday” greeted Herb. Emotions overwhelmed Herb, who was obviously shocked. He was so touched that he cried several times throughout the evening. In his speech, he wished the audience would have the same experience as …“You have given me tonight.”
How did the family pull this surprise party off?
Dad, we won’t celebrate with you on your birthday, we will do something the day after, his son Jon said. “He (dad) was disappointed.”
Though Herb thought Jon was a little heartless, he said at his age, his philosophy was not to take things personally.
Meantime, Leonard Garfield, MOHAI director, wrote Herb a letter to invite him to the museum for a special donors’ reception. Herb never suspected a thing, he never thought his friends including Mayor Ed Murray, would scheme in the “conspiracy.” The mayor gave Herb, Mr. Downtown, a proclamation and declared Mar. 14, Herb Bridge Day.
At least three API groups have recognized Herb’s community service, including the Japanese American Citizens League and Executive Development Institute. He was honored several times early in life, and even more the last five years.
At 90, Herb is in great shape, sharp-witted, funny, charming, compassionate, and wise. And he doesn’t even need glasses. Also, he looks tough for a 90-year-old, with a straight back with acuity even better than some folks younger than him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lives beyond 100.
Once, he said he liked a political candidate, but then he paused, “except one thing, he’s a Republican.” A committed Democrat, he is active in politics and has been working on both sides of the aisle no matter how impossible it has been.
A couple years ago, Herb spoke to an audience of 400, at the Seattle Rotary Club on Veteran’s Day. His words were powerful and genuine. It was amazing that he didn’t hold a piece of paper. He handled “Why them and not us?” so beautifully. How do we justify being alive, while our loved ones are being killed early and unexpectedly in wars, sickness, and accidents? That guilt was burdensome and wrenching. Many in the audience who were still grieving for their loved ones, couldn’t help but shed tears.
Herb said, “It’s because we have to carry on their (our loved ones) legacy.” The work is not done, he said, and we’ve got work to do, he added.
So Herb has carried the legacy of many, including Wing’s unfinished business. Wing would probably say, “Well done Admiral, in every sense of the word.”
Mar. 14 was a day to remember. Faith said it so wonderfully. “What an extraordinary privilege …to know both of these Seattle giants.” Though I never met Wing, his words, examples and impact has continued to inspire me. Herb, you are my hero. (end)