Heartfelt memories were shared Friday at the funeral of Gardena Officer Toshio Hirai, who died following a motorcycle crash on his way to work in Harbor City earlier this month.
Hirai's memorial in Rancho Palos Verdes was led by Reverend John Iwohara, from Gardena Buddhist Church, who chanted and shared passages. Family and colleagues spoke at the service about how Hirai lived his life to the fullest potential. Gardena police Lt. Vince Osorio said Hirai was an expert marksman and "did everything well." He said after joining the Police Department in 2006, Hirai worked various assignments including being a motor AND SWAT officer, as well as working the gang and narcotics units.
"He signed on to stand shoulder to should with men and women of purpose, little did Toshio know that we all signed up to stand next to men like him," Osorio said tearfully.
Hirai grew up in Gardena and was taught by his parents to embrace both his Japanese and Austrian cultures. His mother said she is grateful to have had her son for 34 years.
"Cherish everyday as if it would be the last one," Hirai's mother said to the sea of people who gathered at her son's memorial. "While he was growing up we did everything together. We did judo together, we took him to Japanese and English schools together. We traveled to Japan, Brazil, Austria, Germany together to visit family."
Gardena Police Chief Tom Kang shared stories about how Hirai would stop what he was doing to open a door, or help load groceries into the car of an elderly person. He said while Hirai was extremely intelligent, he was very humble and had a great heart.
"You lived one life, but touched many. I'm going to miss you my friend," Kang said fighting back tears.
Hirai spoke five languages, was a licensed commercial pilot, a black belt in Judo and an organ donor. Mayor Tasha Cerda recalled recently meeting Hirai while on a business trip with the city council to Japan and learning of his many achievements.
"I remembering thinking to myself, 'The city sent 007 to assist us,'" Cerda said. "That meant we could go to five different countries because we had our own personal translator, or if the pilot had issues Toshio could fly the plane. And if we needed protection, well he knew Judo. We literally had our very own James Bond from Gardena."
Cerda said during the trip overseas she asked Hirai why he chose to work for Gardena, instead of working for the FBI or CIA.
"He said with those other departments they own your entire life, and he said he wanted a life with his family," she said.
In addition to his long list of professional accolades, Hirai was a father to his 2-year-old son, Takeo, who was dressed as a police officer at the memorial. His wife, Kristen, said he was an amazing husband, was "born to be a father" and cherished spending time with his son.
"Life is hard, and we shared all of the ups and downs. He always taught me to just keep doing my best, and through this whole process he's been helping me," Kristen said in tears at her husband's memorial. "I hope I can draw on his strength to lead my son to be the best man he can be, just like Toshio was. He will forever be our hero."
A donation page for Officer Hirai's family has been set up.