Memorial honors World War II vet

2013-05-06T20:30:00Z 2013-05-07T22:40:04Z Memorial honors World War II vetElvia Malagon elvia.malagon@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com

MUNSTER | Snapshots of George T. Okamoto's life — from his time as a soldier to being a grandfather — lined a blackboard at his memorial Monday. 

Okamoto, of Munster, lived with his family in a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II — before he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

He was diagnosed in December with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and died April 25. He was 89.

His funeral will be at Arlington National Cemetery.

Monday's memorial at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster was a celebration of his life by his family and friends, said Erin Okamoto Protsman, his daughter.

He was born in Seattle and his family lived in California until they were forced to go to an internment camp. After the war, he lived in Highland and worked in Chicago as an artist and illustrator.

He was married to Caryl Smith and they had five children.

A table displayed a variety of his work as an illustrator for album covers including ones for Ray Stevens and Stevie Wonder's 1970 live release. He also designed the smiley face on the Calumet City water tower, books and helped create the "Let's All Go to the Lobby" commercial shown in theaters.

His work on album cover art earned him three Grammy nominations. In a speech for the memorial, Okamoto Protsman said her father never told his family about the nominations until after the fact.

"He was very humble and very loyal, very kind, very quiet," she said.

Her father frequently visited the Center for Visual and Performing Arts to see the exhibits or eat brunch, she said.

Ray London, 83, of Chicago, attended the memorial Monday. He worked with Okamoto for 17 years in their Okamoto/London graphic design studio in Chicago. London said he fondly remembers the two working together until 10 p.m. and then taking a break to play table tennis.

"He had some very tricky moves," London said. "It took awhile to catch up to him."

He said the two stayed friends long after they stopped working together. He said both were disable veterans and liked to talk about politics and sports. London rooted for the Chicago Cubs and Okamoto liked the New York Yankees.

"I describe him as an old character," London said. "Honest and creative."

Okamoto received a Purple Heart for severe wounds to his legs received in Italy during the war. In 2011, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, along with the rest of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company 1.

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