San Jose honors Norman Y. Mineta with tributes in his hometown

Under the San Jose City Hall Rotunda Wednesday, a public light on the private grieving of the Mineta family. One by one, dignitaries and old friends rose, stood at the microphone, and paid respects.

"It's no secret that norm Mineta was San Jose's favorite son," said Mayor Sam Liccardo. Added Blanca Alvarado, a former San Jose city council member, "These moments of reflection are a tribute for a man who was everybody's BFF."

Norman Y. Mineta, who insisted on being referred to as "Norm," was born in San Jose in 1931.

But the outbreak of war for America a decade later would shape his views of politics for his lifetime.

President Teddy Roosevelt ordered his family, and thousands of other Japanese Americans to leave their homes and businesses.They were incarcerated in camps with barbed wire walls and fences. This was all due to hostilities with Imperial Japan, and partially based on unfounded fears that those who looked different might pose a threat.

"The barbed wire and machine guns pointed inwards from the guard towers, and were not designed to protect, but rather to detain," said Rod Diridon, a longtime friend, and South Bay transportation icon.

This low point in the country's race relations didn't dim Mineta's view of the American experience.

After the war, he graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and eventually was recruited into politics. ​Mineta won a seat on the San Jose city council in the 60s. That accomplishment was soon followed by his election to the mayor's office by the end of that decade.

"For me, and i believe a lot of Japanese Americans, it was a very proud moment," said long-time San Jose resident Susan Yamashita.

Two years after becoming mayor, Mineta was going up the political ladder again. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Norm in his gentle persuasive manner, and winning smile, would reach across the aisle, not for his glory and prestige, but to build lasting partnerships to benefit the common good," said Alvarado.

His quiet, but determined demeanor won praises from both the Right and the Left. He served in presidential cabinets for Clinton and Bush, and on 9/11, gave the order to ground all U.S. commercial aircraft.

"Norm set very high standards for professionalism at work, particularly for integrity," said Liccardo.

Though serving in Washington, he never forgot his roots.

The memorial procession that carried his ashes from the airport that bears his name, to his old neighborhood in Japantown, was lined with well-wishers who remember his impact. And by those too young to know first-hand, but who've learned his lessons through school and family connections.

"For me and my generation, i think it's important that we honor and also we remember a lot of people who made the Japanese American very respected, especially after world war two," said Jake Shimada, an 18-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 201, which is based in Japantown.

Norm Mineta is home again, for the final time.

This is the last time those who knew him, worked with him, or simply read about him, can say thank for you for his 90 years lived the best way possible.

"Welcome home brother," said Rev. Gerald Sakamoto, of the San Jose Buddhist Temple at the close of the ceremony.

A public memorial is scheduled Thursday at 10:30a.m. at Civic Center. A private burial for family will follow.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv