BY TROY MASTERS | Dale Green, an 85-year old gay Korean War veteran, died October 14, 2016 after a heroic and painfully short battle with Stage 4 melanoma. He died after fulfilling his most important wish—marrying Takashi Nakaya, his partner of 31 years, in an emotional August 2016 bedside ceremony at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital.
Dale’s story is a personal one for me. He became my friend in only the past year, but the brief time we spent together was filled with intelligence, wit, soul and an unyielding curiosity for love and life. He stayed in my home several times and became part of my family. Arturo, my partner of 15 years and our dog, 12 year old Lilly, loved him. And the trauma of his sudden decline has been piercing.
His story has continued to unwind in multidimensional ways, just as a life well-lived should.
Soon after Dale and Takashi Nakaya, 53, met in 1975 Lima, Peru, the country collapsed into violent armed conflict as rebel forces became intent on replacing the Peruvian state. Their bond was so strong that when Dale was urged to leave the country — he refused to do so without Takashi. But since Takashi was a Peruvian born citizen, the United States would not approve a visa and so the couple was forced to find a way to stay together. As a first generation Peruvian of Japanese descent, Takashi was given a Japanese passport and the couple was able to flee to Japan.
In Japan, they built an amazing life full of family, friends and a traditional Japanese home full of love. From Japan, they were able to see the world together. Over the years they traveled to nearly every continent.
But staying together was never easy. Dale was unable to obtain Japanese residency and was forced to leave Japan every 90 days. “Every time I leave I am terrified,” Dale told me last June. “There’s a good chance they will not let me back in. If I can’t go back to Takashi and Mimi, I don’t know what I would do,” he said, wiping a tear from his face.
Gay relationships in Japan have no legal standing and an appeal of a visa denial on the basis of an existing relationship would certainly fail. “I have always lived in terror that he would not be allowed to come back,” said Takashi. “We sometimes imagined reversing our strategy, with me using my Japanese passport to enter the U.S. on a tourist visa and departing every few months, but we loved Japan and since I had a career we never gave it more than passing thought,” he told The Pride LA in September.
As the years passed, Dale and Takashi settled into the routine. As long as Dale was able to re-enter Japan, all would be fine.
Growing old sometimes changes everything.
In July, Dale suffered what appeared to be a stroke and was taken to a hospital near their home in Toyohashi, Japan. The Japanese medical system does not treat foreigners except on a very expensive cash basis. And so, with Dale’s visa set to expire, the couple realized that medical treatment was the most important thing for Dale.
As was typical for Dale, he mulled over all his options and decided to seek treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital. The VA hospital in Japan, they learned, treats only active service members, leading Dale to conclude that he would have to return to the U.S.
Dale and Takashi faced separation.“We convinced ourselves it was temporary,” Takashi said.
Dale and Takashi traveled to the West LA Veterans Administration and Dale was immediately hospitalized. Within hours he was informed that he was facing Stage 4 Melanoma and that he had little chance of survival. He would undergo radiation therapy.
The bad news was delivered only moments before the couple was to be wed. As the doctors were delivering the bad news to Dale, I was present and interrupted them.
“Well, we have other news! Dale and Takashi are going to be married and the officiant will be here in the next five minutes.” The nurses and doctors present were jubilant and offered deeply heartfelt, even tearful congratulations. Word spread throughout the hospital that their wedding was about to take place.
When the officiant arrived, dozens of VA staff members witnessed the ceremony and could hardly contain their tears of joy. They celebrated their wedding with them. “This is the most beautiful moment of our life together,” Dale cried. “I can’t believe it…to accept us is one thing but to celebrate our love is something else entirely,” said Takashi.
The couple was able to spend the next 72 hours together before Takashi had to return to work in Japan and care for their home and dog, Mimi, in Toyohashi.
In the weeks that followed, Dale’s condition worsened. He was transferred to a hospice and had determined that it was best to avoid further treatment. He ordered a “do not resuscitate” wrist band, but the separation from Takashi was too much. Daily Skype calls with Takashi motivated him to continue to try and so he did. But the radiation was too strong and he wound up being placed in an intensive care unit.
Takashi returned to Los Angeles immediately and within days Dale had bounced back. You can see their reunion here.
For the next 10 days, Dale and Takashi were inseparable, taking daily wheel-bed strolls through the hospital and the outdoor gardens of the VA. In honor of their wedding, the Veterans Administration provided Takashi a home at the Fischer House for as long as he needed to stay.
After an article appeared in The Pride LA, Dale and Takashi became something of an Internet sensation. Dozens of versions of the article documenting their wedding were posted on websites in several languages and more than five million people read their story. People from around the world offered their support and love and some contributed to a gofundme.com campaign. In Los Angeles, many people offered to do whatever they could to make the couple’s remaining time together as comfortable as possible. One person offered to help Dale with a flight back to Japan, if that became possible.
A Los Angeles mom, who asked to remain anonymous, became a regular visitor. She spoiled him, brought him flowers, cheeses, food from outside, visits from her children, and general loving support to Dale and Takashi. She spent hours listening to stories of their life together, their fears and she promised to keep in regular text contact with Takashi.
Ultimately, Dale and Takashi were told that nothing more could be done and that Dale had only a short time left to live. He was transferred to another hospice facility in North Hills, where Dale decided to reinstate the ‘do not resuscitate order.”
The article about Dale and Takashi preceded Dale’s arrival. Gay staff members at the hospice were thrilled to meet him and the entire staff welcomed the couple with hearty congratulations on their marriage.
Again, Takashi had to return to Japan for work. But this time things were different. Takashi realized he needed to be by Dale’s side at all times, and so he decided to explore ways of doing so.
Dale and Takashi returned to regular Skype visits but Dale’s abilities were in steep decline, and even these simple calls became impractical and terrorizing for them both. Dale was slipping quickly.
Takashi requested a meeting with his employer in Toyohashi. “I need to take as much time off as I can take because, as you know, my friend Dale is in his last days at a hospital in Los Angeles and he won’t be able to return; I want to be with him,” he said to his boss.
“Let me ask you something,” his boss replied, “why would you dare risk your stability for a mere friend?”
Takashi took a deep breath and decided to come out to his boss, knowing that in Japan there is great risk in doing so. “Well, for as long as I have worked here, you have known Dale as my friend and roommate but what you do not know is that we are a couple and we were married in the United States last month. We have been “husbands” for 31 years and we love each other deeply. If I lose my job because of this, then I will have to deal with it,” Takashi said.
“I knew it!,” said Takashi’s boss with a smile. “This is a very unusual request but I am willing to offer you all of your accrued paid sick days. If you exceed the 41 you have available to you, then we will have to officially terminate you, as is policy. But you can be re-hired. Go, take care of your husband,” he said.
Takashi bought a ticket that was to depart in two days.
But that very night the doctor called to say that Dale’s situation was dire. He had quit eating and his respiration had changed. “Dale has only a few hours left,” said the doctor.
Takashi scrambled to change his flight and went to Tokyo to board the next available one to Los Angeles.
He arrived the next morning in North Hills to find Dale unable to speak, but able to recognize his presence.
“I am here, Dale. I am here. And I love you, I love you. I love you,” he said.
Takashi’s words echoed their wedding only weeks before, but this time they were said not with jubilation but with heartbreak. “I love you. I am here. I am here,” he repeated.
For the next 15 hours Takashi told Dale everything he ever wanted to say.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing — not even cancer will tear us apart. I am here with you and I will stay until the very end. Remember how our eyes met and how much love we have had since the first day we met? Remember the song I recorded for you on a cassette tape? You always played it when we were separated. Friendship, separation and hope…”You’ve got a friend.” Remember? We always played it every time we were separated and desperate to see one another because it always gave us hope that we’d be together again,” Takashi whispered to Dale.
“Remember all the trips we made around the world and all the beautiful experiences we had together? he asked. Takashi says he talked about home, their Golden Retriever Mimi, family, friends in Japan. He said he read letters from each person sent him wishing speedy recovery, “so he would know how much he was loved and missed and Japan.”
“I wasn’t always sure if he knew I was there with him so I tried desperately to open his eyes with my fingers and see if his eyes would follow me. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t…he was just so very weak.” Takashi now says.
Through the night, Takashi was texting with me and I was sending them music that Takashi said Dale loved. Takashi played the music for Dale and as he played it a sense of peace came over him and his face returned to normal color and his mouth stayed closed. It was as if he was transported back to a time when everything was magic, when life was abundant and endlessly joyous and their lives were ahead of them.
The Carpenter’s Superstar, The Partridge Family’s Echo Valley 26809, Barbara Streisand’s cover of a Capenter’s We’ve Only Just Begun, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, Adele’s When We Were Young, Laura Nyro’s Up On The Roof, Mocedade’s Eres Tu, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Emmy Lou Harris Making Believe, Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man, Elton John’s Your Song, Sound of Music’s Climb Every Mountain, Julie Andrews’ Somewhere, Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and Niall Horn’s This Town.
The next morning Takashi texted back: “Good morning my friend… I spent all night sitting next to him and no change from yesterday….This morning kind of he opened his eyes a little bit, saw me and went back to sleep. David, the guy from Beverly Hills is coming to see me this morning and give me some company he says.”
Moments later another text: “He just opened his eyes fully and was trying to say something…Magical moment…My little miracle just happened,”
I texted back a selection of songs from Dead Can Dance that I had played during the passing of a beloved friend from AIDS, years before: Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to The Rules, The Arrival and the Reunion, and Saltarello.
But it was words of permission that Dale was seeking from Takashi, as his body was giving up. “If you need to go, Dale, it’s OK. I will be with you soon…I am with you. I love you. I am here and I will always be with you,” whispered repeatedly Takashi to Dale.
And then, as if in acknowledgement, Dale struggled for a few moments and roused himself awake, summonsing just enough energy to open his eyes and lock his gaze into Takashi’s. He was able to utter a few words: “I love you, Takashi. Thank you.”
And as Takashi, crying aloud, stroked Dale’s beard, he looked up and exhaled his last breath. He was at peace. And he was with Takashi.
As Takashi, stunned, sat in the room alone with Dale for the next hour, telling him goodbye, crying, caressing and kissing him, David from Beverly Hills arrived and helped Takashi gain his composure.
Takashi was able then to inform the nurses and within moments the staff of the VA gathered around Dale’s body and said an official, but tearful goodbye. One by one, they offered support and love to Takashi and then conducted a moving Taps ceremony which Takashi live-streamed for his family in Japan.
Cody, my 5 week old puppy, was present for the VA staff’s ceremony, as was Lilly who had become Dale’s hospital therapy dog. Lilly visited Dale dozens of times during his hospitalization and would sit on the bed next to him for long periods of time. As we left the VA, Cody scampered up to Takashi and demanded to be carried.
The public is invited to an Air Force Color Guard Memorial Service to be held at All Saints Church in Beverly Hills on October 30, 1:30 PM. Please RSVP or in lieu of participation in the service please donate to help pay Dale’s final expenses.