John Sato, 95, of Howick, told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) he hasn’t been able to sleep well since the March 15 Christchurch attacks in which a 24-year-old alleged white supremacist open-fired at two mosques in southern New Zealand, killing 50 Muslims.
"I stayed awake quite a lot at the night. I didn't sleep too well ever since. I thought it was so sad. You can feel the suffering of other people," Sato said.
The World War II veteran, who admitted to rarely leaving his neighborhood in the Auckland suburb of Howick, left his home at 10 a.m. to travel by bus to the neighboring suburb of Pakuranga about 15 minutes away to pay his respects at a local mosque.
Moved by the many flowers and messages, Sato decided to then hop on another bus to head to a march against racism in the city’s center, about 45 to 50 minutes away, depending on the bus route. Two bus transfers later, and Sato arrived at the rally in Aotea Square, the New York Post reported.
Sato, whose mother was Scottish and father was Japanese, was one of only two Kiwi-Japanese recruited to fight in World War II against Japan. Though he told RNZ he lost touch with modern life, Sato said he felt compelled to join the march against racism.
"I think it's such a tragedy, and yet it has the other side. It has brought people together, no matter what their race or anything. People suddenly realized we're all one. We care for each other," Sato said.
Though many people were amazed by the 95-year-old’s commute to the march, Sato joked that taking the bus was a piece of cake compared to walking. At one point, the veteran was photographed being helped by a police officer named Constable Rob and actor Bruce Hopkins, best known for playing Gamling in "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.
“Sitting in a bus is much more comfortable than walking,” he said, jokingly. “You know you just sit back and you sit all comfortable and you feel lazy. You’re brought along you don’t have to walk. It saves your shoes.”
Not a stranger to hardship, Sato lost his wife 15 years ago and his daughter, who was born blind, passed away last year. The 95-year-old’s journey home was easier than the way he came.
A police officer “took me all the way home and waited down there until he saw me get up the stairs. Very kind you know,” Sato told RNZ, adding “That tragedy in Christchurch — look what it brought out in the people. It shows the best of humanity.”
Sato said life is too short to be wasted on meaningless things like hatred. He said he hopes the Christchurch tragedy was a wakeup call for many to make an effort to understand people of different backgrounds.
"We all go through our furnace in certain ways and some of the things that happen to us will make you more understanding, I hope," Sato told RNZ.