Murono

Franklin & Marshall quarterback Seiki Murono was named the Most Outstanding Football Player in the Middle Atlantic Conference in 1964, when he led the Diplomats to an undefeated season, and again in 1965. His journey to Lancaster had started when he was born at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas on D-Day.

A dream season for the Franklin & Marshall football team fell into jeopardy when Pennsylvania Military College scored a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to play on Nov. 7, 1964.

PMC, later renamed Widener University, subsequently pinned the undefeated Diplomats on their own 20-yard line with a touchback. And so the nervous energy from a packed stadium at Williamson Field, as well as the calm confidence of F&M coach George Storck, fell on the shoulders of Seiki Murono.

"Coach Storck pulled me aside," Murono said. "There were two minutes left. He said, 'OK, Seiki, here's what we're going to do to win.' And he said it with this military bearing and such confidence that I became a believer."

Murono, a two-sport athlete for the Diplomats, then engineered a two-minute drive for the ages, slinging two straight passes to wide receiver Larry Graham. A third attempt drew a flag on the PMC defense, setting up a first-and-goal on the 2. After a failed fullback dive, Murono took the ball under center, tucked it under his arm and plowed into the end zone for the game-winning score that secured a 19-17 victory for the Diplomats.

"To this day," Murono said recently over the phone, "I remember every second of those two minutes."

Murono's march down the field 53 autumns ago against PMC highlighted his time in Lancaster on a broader journey that took him from a World War II internment camp in Texas to an upbringing in a diverse New Jersey community to a brief stint in professional football and a mainstay in  international banking.

It fed into a family history of love and loss and commitment and perseverance encapsulated by the Japanese term "gaman."

"The Japanese culture," Murono said, "holds a lot of stuff in. It's not overly expressive. You just deal with things."

Family uprooted

Murono's journey began on June 6, 1944 — D-Day — when he was born at the detention facility in Crystal City, Texas, which existed to confine people of Japanese and German descent.

His parents, father Ginzo and mother Hisako, had lived in Lima, Peru, operating a successful sporting goods store, before Peruvian police arrested Ginzo by order of the United States on Jan. 6, 1943.

"He had a beautiful home near the ocean," Seiki said of his father’s life in South America. "He had 5,000 acres of property. He was living a pretty good life, and, in an instant, it was all taken away."

Authorities plucked Ginzo from his wife and their two children — a 4-year-old daughter, Toyoko, and an infant son, Eisuke — and shipped him to a camp in Kenedy, Texas, a place “where  aliens from the United States and Latin America who were considered dangerous to the public safety could be interned,” according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Six months later, he was transferred to Crystal City. Hisako applied for admission to the United States through the Spanish Embassy in Peru and, with her two children in tow, made the long journey to join her husband in the camp in July 1943.

"They were uprooted from a very comfortable life," Seiki Murono said of his parents, "coming to a strange, unknown country where they did not speak the language, into an internment camp. They really had it rough."

 ‘Society within the barbed wire’

About half of the 3,000 Japanese in the camp hailed from Peru, according to Ginzo’s 1981 testimony to the Commission of Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Act.

“Everyone who worked in the camp was paid an hourly wage of 10 cents per hour,” Ginzo said in the testimony. “We were also given freedom of religion and the right to conduct meetings. We managed to set up a rather efficient society within the barbed wire and guarded confines of the camp.”

When World War II ended, the Muronos — with Seiki, a newborn — could not return to their comfortable life in Peru. Instead, they remained in the camp until 1946. Charles Franklin Seabrook, who owned a farm outside of Bridgeton, New Jersey, invited former internees to work in his fields and factories.

“He had a labor shortage,” Murono said of Seabrook. “And what he did was identify the Japanese-Americans and the Japanese-Peruvians who had been interned as a source of labor. He offered anyone who was interned train fare and accommodations in this little town in southern New Jersey.”

With little money and almost no proficiency in English, the Muronos joined 3,000 other Japanese-Americans in southern New Jersey. Murono’s parents and their two oldest children also worked on becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.

"My father and mother decided that, despite what had happened to them, they saw the U.S. as being a land of opportunity," Murono said, "and they wanted their three kids to be educated and to live in the U.S."

Melting pot in New Jersey

The community attached to Seabrook Farms, which also included Latvian and Estonian immigrants escaping persecution and communism in Europe, bred a diverse atmosphere for Murono’s childhood.

"I thought this was life as normal for everyone," he said.

His experience at Seabrook included learning the English language with help from his high school teacher, Jane Owen, in particular.

"To me," he said, "this was my ticket."

Outside of the classroom, he enjoyed fishing trips and riding bicycles and playing sports. Every kid in Seabrook played baseball, basketball and football.

"We spent our youths playing sports and studying," Murono said. "It was a very, very fond experience, great memories, and I only have positive things to say. We didn't know what we didn't have."

As a senior in the Class of 1962, Murono helped Bridgeton High School's football and baseball teams march to state titles. After graduating, he followed his brother, Eisuke, to Franklin & Marshall.

"I visited him several times while he was an underclassman," Seiki said, "and I liked the school, its emphasis on academics rather than sports, and that's how I got there."

Adjusting to Lancaster

While he had grown up in a diverse community of families converging from different parts of the world, Murono found a much-less-diverse population on the Lancaster campus.

"All of these displaced immigrants from Europe," he said of the community in Bridgeton, "and the interned Japanese Americans. I thought that this was how life was throughout the world. It was only when I got out to college that I realized this was a unique experience. I think there was my brother and me (at F&M), maybe one other Asian student, not too many African Americans."

Beyond dodging would-be tacklers, Murono, who was limited by NCAA rules to F&M’s freshman team in his first year, also admitted to side-stepping ethnic slurs from some opponents.

"I would remain quiet, and I would let the actions speak for me," he said. "I would never retaliate. I would never speak back. I think that's part of the Japanese nature."

His Diplomat teammates, including Tom McBee, a former Tennessee state wrestling champion, took a different approach.

"(McBee) heard a person make a comment," Murono said, "and just went after him and knocked him to the ground. He had my back, and I had a tremendous respect for him from that point on."

As a sophomore in 1963, Murono joined an F&M varsity team that had gone winless the season before and authored just three victories over its past three years. Storck, who would go on to guide the Diplomats to a 20-17-2 record over five seasons, had taken over the program, and the bond with his quarterback developed immediately.

"It was pretty special," Murono said. "I looked up to him. He was a West Point graduate, and I liked everything about his character and his approach to football and life. He was very disciplined, very organized, very methodical, very systematic, which appealed to my nature."

FM team

Seiki Murono was the quarterback of Franklin & Marshall's 1964 and 1965 football teams. In this photo of the 1964 squad, he is standing in the second row, wearing No. 13, and is positioned behind Diplomat co-captains Larry Graham (89) and Rick Johnson (33). The 1964 team, which went undefeated, has been inducted into the Franklin & Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame.

Unbeaten season

Murono missed most of his sophomore year — a 1-6 campaign for the Diplomats — with an injury. The following year, Murono and the Diplomats produced one of the most memorable seasons in school history.

F&M trailed late in four of the games — including the thriller with PMC — and led by one point entering the fourth quarter of another, but absorbed each challenge and attained 8-0 record and its first Middle Atlantic Conference title.

Murono, earning the first of two consecutive conference MVP awards, completed 108 of his 180 pass attempts for 1,021 yards and eight touchdowns to six interceptions.

He also rushed 90 times for 129 yards and seven scores, including the last-minute, game-winning sneak to stun PMC.

"There were really no superstars on the team," Murono said. "We were all decent athletes, but not great athletes. We all worked hard. We all believed in each other. We all believed in Coach Storck and his system. Even though we fell behind, we had the confidence that if we stuck with the game plan and worked hard, we'd prevail."

And football fans in Lancaster took notice.

“They came from all sections of the county to see F&M play football,” wrote Intelligencer Journal sports editor Jim Riley in 1966, “and they in turn left singing the praises of Murono.”

As a senior, Murono led the Diplomats to another strong season on the gridiron and also captained the baseball team.

Banking and minor-league football

After earning his business degree, Murono continued to stay near the game he loved.

"I realized that I wasn't good enough to make it into the NFL," he said, "but good enough to play in the minor leagues of the NFL. It was very satisfying. I took my game probably as far as it could go."

Murono divided his time between a budding career at Chase Manhattan Bank and a minor-league football journey that included stints in Philadelphia, New York, Pottstown and Long Island, where he played for the Atlantic Coast League's Long Island Bulls, an affiliate of the New York Giants.

"After I'd finish work," he said, "I'd get in my car and drive to Hofstra University, which was our home field, and practice. We'd play our games on weekends."

In the Giants' system, Murono worked with former NFL players and future NFL coaches, including Allan Webb and Joe Walton. He endured the physicality of the game on weekends while cultivating a career in international banking during the week.

"It was the resilience that I learned from my parents," he said. "You do what it takes. I never thought of not doing both."

Murono's football career ended in 1972, but his banking career continued to flourish. Today, he sits on the board of directors of California Business Bank and Millennium Capital, while serving as the president of Seabrook Executive Search, a search firm that he founded in San Francisco.

Amazing parents

Before the success on the football field and in the banking world, Murono benefited from the endurance of his parents, who shielded their children from their tumultuous story.

"The trouble, the problems, the hardship they had to go through," Murono said, "was really amazing. They wouldn't talk about it when we were young."

Ginzo finally opened up about his harrowing journey to the United States when Harvey Gardiner contacted former Peruvian Japanese internees for his 1981 book, “Pawns in a Triangle of Hate.”

"That is the first time," Seiki said, "that I learned the true history of what had happened. The name of the ship. The premise under which the U.S. went to Peru to incarcerate prominent Japanese businessmen whom they thought would constitute a threat to the U.S. mainland from the southern front."

The sacrifices and perseverance of Ginzo and Hisako, who both died in 2006, echoed throughout their youngest son’s journey through the opportunities they cultivated and a life that blended the traits of several distinct cultures.

"I try to take the best of what my parents instilled in me," said Murono,  now 73 and living in San Francisco with his wife, Lynette, "what the Japanese culture has instilled in me, plus all of the good things about the American Western culture. I think if you kind of blend the two, you can achieve a pretty good outcome."

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