JAVA President, Gerald Yamada. Photo: N. Ford.
ANC Memorial Day Service Remarks (As Prepared)
May 30, 2021
On behalf of the Japanese American Veterans Association, I welcome you to the 73rd annual Memorial Day Service at Arlington National Cemetery.
JAVA is proud to again co-sponsor this service, together with the Washington, DC Chapter of JACL and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.
We thank the Key Kobayashi family for organizing this event.
Today, we honor the soldiers who are no longer with us. They answered the call to serve. They served with hope, honor, and personal courage.
The World War II Japanese American soldiers served at a difficult time in our history. The government distrusted their loyalty based solely on their ethnicity. America was at war with Japan and anyone here who was of Japanese ancestry was suspect.
It mattered not that 2/3’s of those whose lives were disrupted by Executive Order 9066 were U.S. citizens and supposedly guaranteed equal treatment under the U.S. Constitution. The government openly discriminated against them and unabashedly denied them their rights. History has substantiated that the government was motivated by prejudice, war hysteria, and lack of political leadership.
Today, the government’s resolve to enforce equal protection of the law for all is again being tested. We are witnessing a dramatic increase of hate crimes against Asian Americans and against members of the Jewish community. Unfortunately, our history has a pattern of hatred against minority groups based on stereotypes.
The war against prejudice is ongoing. I ask, “What can we do?”
The Japanese Americans, who answered the call to serve our country during World War II, kept their faith in America. They served to fight prejudice and to prove that they are entitled to have all their rights as U.S. citizens. They won their battle.
Like the World War II Japanese American soldiers, we must keep our faith in America. Let us follow their example and do what we can to ensure that the government provides equal protection to all Americans. We must join together in our resolve to end prejudice by raising our voices whenever we are aware of unequal treatment.
In closing, let us honor, with our deepest respect, all the fallen soldiers who died fighting to preserve our freedoms. And, in appreciation to all, who have served and are serving, we simply say, “Thank you for your service and God bless you.”
Wreath Presentation (Left to Right) Mitch Maki, CEO,Go For Broke National Education Center; Steve Moriyama, Commander,Veterans of Foreign Wars: 4th District Gardena Post 1961; James Nakamura, Commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars: Kazuo Masuda Post 3670; Ken Hayashi, President, Veterans Memorial Court Alliance at the Japanese American National War Memorial Court, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA.
By Robert Horsting
The COVID-19 era has again impacted how we can recognize and honor those heroes whose lives we lost in military service to our nation. As many of the annual Los Angeles County and Orange County regional Memorial Day services have been canceled due to safety concerns, the 2021 Memorial Day observance at the Japanese American National War Memorial Court has grown to include a coalition of sponsors and representatives of the various communities. Two Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts: 4th District Gardena Post 1961, Kazuo Masuda Post 3670, and the Go For Broke National Education Center joined host Veterans Memorial Court Alliance in co-sponsoring this ceremony and presenting a floral wreath to mark this occasion.
Our keynote speaker, Mr. Wade Ishimoto, is a Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) Life Time Member, and we are grateful to JAVA President Gerald Yamada for his recommendation of him to provide a special message for this observance. To say Mr. Ishimoto is very accomplished in his service to his (and our) nation would be a vast understatement at best. Serving as this year's MC, Helen Ota introduced Mr. Ishimoto with the following: He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Joint Special Operations University. Mr. Ishimoto retired as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy as a Highly-Qualified Expert in 2012 and was previously the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict from 2004 to 2007. In addition, he is a retired Army Special Forces officer who served multiple tours in Vietnam and a charter member of the Delta Force and its Intelligence Officer. Mr. Ishimoto is also a Special Operations Command Commando Hall of Fame inductee. He has many accomplishments, and we invite you to learn more about him by visiting memorialcourtalliance.org.
Keynote Speaker: Wade Y. Ishimoto.
Wade's words were honest, raw, and contemplative. As he spoke of those friends he lost in conflicts, he reminded us that although the focus of Memorial Day is to honor the memory of those who didn't make it home, we cannot forget the families, friends, and comrades who bear the weight of this sacrifice. As one young Gold Star wife recently shared, "From that day on, every day was Memorial Day." In telling the story of those friends he lost, he also showed us how they will live on in our memories, and how in finally finding the inner strength to tell someone what he bore witness to, was the beginning of his own path to healing. In allowing us the privilege of hearing his experience he again does service to us all and for our nation.
For those returning women and men in military service, the importance of sharing even the slightest, seemingly inconsequential detail can bring some peace of mind for the family by confirming the strength of their love, giving clarity to the lack of details, and illustrating that sense of security made in the bond between comrades-in-arms. Thirteen years after the loss of his friend a soldier told the Gold Star wife the details of her husband's loss and moments when he saw him touch his chest where he fastened their picture and a bit of her dress fabric, which carried the scent of her perfume, to the inside of his shirt. Hearing this provided her with a loving and cherished memory. In sharing, he was able to shed some of the weight he had been caring and she noticed a relaxed change in posture as this was the first time had spoken to anyone about these memories.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Fuchigami Jr and his wife McKenzie Fuchigami.His name was the most recent addition to the Japanese American National War Memorial
This story hit closer to home for the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance family, as the name of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Fuchigami Jr. was recently added to the wall, joining that community of heroes. He was an Apache helicopter pilot who lost his life while supporting ground troops in Logar Province in Afghanistan on November 20, 2019. We again extend our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to his wife McKenzie, his family, friends, and comrades.
The ceremony was well attended by representatives from community organizations, including the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum, and a range of people active in community service. As each person was announced they placed a white carnation by one of the black granite walls inscribed with nearly 1,200 names of those of Japanese heritage who died in U.S. military service since 1898 on the USS Maine to the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We hope that this Memorial Day will remind all Americans that their freedom came at a price, which was paid by others who answered the call to service.
Event Co-Chairs: David Miyoshi and Ken Hayashi, Veterans Memorial Court Alliance.
Video Available May 31, 2021, click here to watch or follow this link: https://www.memorialcourtalliance.org/memorial2021.
Left to Right: Nancy Yamada, Gerald Yamada, Minister Mukai, Wade Ishimoto and Mark Nakagawa. Photo: Courtesy of Gerald Yamada.
The Embassy of Japan announced that Minister Kenichiro Mukai will be leaving his position as the Minister, Head of Chancery, on June 13, 2021. He will immediately report to his next assignment as the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Japanese Mission to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, France.
In his position as Minister, Head of Chancery, Minister Mukai has reached out to the Japanese American community to strengthen relationships with Japanese American organizations in the DC area. JAVA has enjoyed a strong relationship with him during this tenure in DC.
In appreciation of his efforts, JAVA President Gerald Yamada presented him with the JAVA Veterans Advocate Award at a farewell dinner on May 17th at Patsy's American Restaurant, Tysons Corner, VA. The award inscription reads: “In recognition of your efforts as Minister, Head of Chancery, to build and cultivate a friendship between the Government of Japan and the Japanese American community. We are moved by your warmth, sincerity, and steadfast support of JAVA activities and Programs.” Yamada also presented Minister Mukai with an inscribed JAVA coin and another one for Mrs. Mukai, who was unable to attend. The dinner was attended by Minister Mukai, Wade Ishimoto, Mark Nakagawa, Nancy Yamada, and Gerald Yamada.
While this article does not pertain directly to veterans, we print it here because we believe it is a well-written brief of background to the momentous events of WW II: internment, ostracization of Nikkei by the body politic, and some 800 Nisei who died on the battlefields of Europe and Asia Pacific to prove their loyalty.
By Mas Hashimoto, Retired History Teacher
By the mid 1800’s industrial Japan had a surplus population. They emigrated for the U.S. and several Central and Latin American countries. (The largest number went to Brazil.) Japan adopted a policy of compulsory education to the ninth grade. Many who emigrated here had college degrees. The first colony in America, north of Placerville, was the Wakamatsu Silk and Tea Colony of 1868. It failed. A young girl, only 19 years old, Okei Ito, was the first Japanese to be buried in the United States. Her tombstone is revered by all of us. My mother always cried when she heard the name “Okei-san” because she understood the hardships of a teenager living in a strange country.
My father and his first wife arrived in 1899 in Hawaii. The U.S. had just taken Hawaii away from the Hawaiians in 1898. The work in the sugar fields was so hard, his first wife divorced him and returned to Japan. Brokenhearted, he left Honolulu on the SS Alameda for San Francisco on the day of the San Francisco earthquake, April 18, 1906.
My mother, a “picture bride,” married my father in 1914 when she got off the boat in San Francisco, seeing him for the first time. They were to have seven sons. I’m the seventh and the only one remaining. Watsonville’s Japantown was already established by 1914, and it included those living and working in Pajaro … into Monterey County.
The first known Japanese here in 1885 was Sakuzo Kimura who spoke some English. He might have been from Nagasaki and a Catholic. He organized a labor force. When he died in 1900, he was buried in the Catholic cemetery on Freedom Blvd. The Japanese laborers worked where the Chinese left off … first in the railroad and lumber industries. Later, they engaged in agriculture. At first, Japanese workers were cheated out of wages and hours by the growers and others. Next time, they didn’t work as hard. Emperor Meiji heard that Japanese workers did not have a very good reputation. He decreed that all will work diligently and fulfill any and all contracts regardless. The Issei (immigrants—first generation) formed a Japanese Association for mutual benefit. There were dues and a paid secretary. The dues were often spent on funeral expenses. Monthly contributions were required. The Association was a “bank” where members could borrow since local banks wouldn’t lend any money to them.
The center of Japantown is where Burger King on Main Street today is located. The area flooded often. The whites lived first on Maple Avenue and later on East Beach Street. These houses are very ornate. Several were designed by William Weeks. The police station was located at 231 Union Street, in Japantown. We’ve always had a friendly working relationship with the police chiefs. On lower Main Street, mixed together with Chinese businesses, were Japanese restaurants, pool hall, laundry, photo studio, boarding houses, drug stores, grocery stores, auto shop, barber shops and other businesses. The Japanese Presbyterian Church was located where the Salvation Army is situated on Union Street. It moved to the west side on First Street in 1929, and changed its name to Westview Presbyterian Church. It’s older than the Buddhist Temple, which was built on the corner of Union and Bridge (now Riverside) streets in 1906. In 1956, the city required that it relocate because of parking requirements. It is located now at the corner of Blackburn and Bridge Street. Visitors from other cities are surprised that our Temple isn’t protected by high security fences. In 2017, the Temple celebrated its 110th anniversary on November 4th. The Japanese community hall—Toyo Hall and Japanese language school--was located near the Union Street entrance to Burger King. There’s one redwood tree left that the Japanese Association planted, dedicated to education. There was also a baseball field on the corner of Union and Front Streets. The Japanese Association, following Japan’s donation of cherry trees to Washington, DC, donated hundreds of cherry trees to the city and to the schools of Watsonville. During WW II, many trees were vandalized. Upon our return, only three had remained—one at Watsonville High and two at Mintie White. This winter, the last tree died at Mintie White. I donated a tree to replace the one at WHS but it, too, had been vandalized. We’re waiting to see whether it will survive. The Japanese Association participated in Watsonville’s 4th of July parades in the 1930s with floats to show their appreciation and patriotism.
In the mid-1930s, there was a Japanese graduate student … of Meiji University … studying at the University of Southern California. During the summer months, he stayed at the Hayashi boarding house on First Street, and my father fed him like a member of our family. He enjoyed his summer break here and learned of our history and struggles. He worked in the fields. He learned social dancing. He appreciated the American lifestyle. I was an infant, but this story was told over and over by my family members. He returned to Japan in 1937 and was elected to the Parliament. He ran against Hideki Tojo’s militaristic party and won! During WW II, he was under house arrest for his pro-America views After the war, assisted by Kan Abe, grandfather to the current Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, he was elected 19 times to the Parliament and served in ten different cabinet positions, including Foreign Minister, before becoming the Prime Minister of Japan in 1974. Which Prime Minister of Japan once lived in Watsonville? Takeo Miki, nicknamed “Mr. Clean.” He tried to clean up his political party and the government from corruption, most notably the bribery scandals by the Lockheed Corporation of California. Alas, he was to serve only one term.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was said in the newspapers, other tabloids, the entertainment field (movies), patriotic organizations (Daughters of the American Revolution and Native Sons of the Golden West, Elks Clubs), some churches, and most certainly by politicians that “The Japanese race is an alien race which can never be assimilated into the American Way of Life. There’s nothing of value of Japanese culture.” To make sure we didn’t assimilate, laws were passed against Asian immigrants. It was done to the Chinese in 1882 with the Exclusion Act, and to the Japanese in 1924. To make sure we didn’t stay here—Asian immigrants could not own property, Asians could not marry whites; and, Asians could not become citizens of the United States. It took a century to have these laws repealed or overturned. There’s nothing of value of Japanese culture? Sushi, tofu, teriyaki, sake, sashimi, taiko, ikebana, bonsai, karate, haiku, origami, karaoke, Zen, and others? The Japanese added their love of nature, harmony, honor, loyalty, never to bring shame to the family, yourself and community. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, one-third of the graduates of Watsonville High School were Japanese Americans. Today, perhaps just one. Once the Japanese population in the U.S. was the largest among Asians, but now, the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Indians from India (they are Caucasians) out number us in this country. Watsonville is famous among Japanese Americans, for many families got their start here.
After our wartime incarceration, only a third returned to Watsonville. Many were welcomed in Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. Of over 100 chapters, our Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League is the 4th largest in the nation. Today, only Yamashita Market on Union Street and H&S Garage on First Street remain of Japantown. Of the 46 Japantowns in California, there’s only three left—San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Santa Cruz never had a Japantown. For more information, please refer to Sandy Lydon’s “The Japanese in the Monterey Bay Region” 1997 and Eleanor Johnson’s “The Japanese and Japanese Americans in the Pajaro Valley,” 1967. Here, we live quiet lives in harmony, peace, respect for others and the love of nature. Loyalty and devotion to family, friends and community service are high on our list of duty.
[EdNote. This article was in the Watsonville-Santa Cruz Newsletter, May 2021 issue. Hashimoto approved reprint.]
Condensed from a longer background Brief by Floyd Mori
Salt Lake City, Utah. The Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Grant Program was established in 2006 by Congress in order to help preserve the camps in which Japanese Americans were held as prisoners during World War II. Public Law 109-441 (the original JACS grant bill) provided for $38 million dollars over a number of years. The purpose is to teach the history of Japanese Americans to ensure that a travesty of justice such as the incarceration is never allowed to happen again. As the funding which was originally in the bill is now running out, JACL and other organizations are working to assure that the JACS grant program will continue into the future.
The NPS grants range from $17,295, to re-establish the historic honor roll at the Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome County, ID, which commemorates Japanese American servicemen from that camp, to $832,879, to build the interior of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center in Park County, Wyoming. Locations eligible for the grants include the ten War Relocation Authority camps that were set up in 1942 in seven states: Gila River and Poston, Arizona; Amache, Colorado; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas; Manzanar and Tule Lake, California; Minidoka, Idaho; and Topaz, Utah.
Floyd Mori’s Testimony
The following is a condensed version of Floyd Mori’s testimony presented before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands on May 27, 2021. The full testimony can be found here.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Floyd Mori and I am happy to speak to you today regarding HR 1931, the Japanese American Confinement Education Act. I am a former National Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), one of the oldest and largest Asian American advocacy organizations in the Nation. The JACL and other organizations were part of a coalition that proposed the concept of HR 1931 back in 2005.
The WWII incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, mostly American citizens, has been an embarrassment for our country. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians completed a national study and found that the government of the United States committed a grave injustice with this incarceration. In fact, this summer will mark 40 years since the commission held public hearings where it heard directly from Japanese Americans about their personal experiences of incarceration. Many lost everything when they were given a few short weeks to prepare for this forced removal from the West coast of the United States. The Commission’s findings were that this injustice was enacted because of wartime hysteria, government incompetence, and racial bigotry. As a result, legislation was passed that provided for an apology and reparations to the living survivors of these American concentration camps. This was one of the few actions of the Federal government for which Congress and the President issued an apology.
In spite of the efforts of many community organizations and educational institutions, there is little general knowledge of this shameful period of our Nation’s history. The initial intent of the 2006 legislation was to provide various tools to help America understand this period of injustice so that such actions would never occur again to any other group in the United States.
Over the past decade, 269 projects have been funded by this Act to educate and inform the public about this period and about the impact upon human life. Just last week, I was able to take a group of people to the Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah near where one of the ten main American concentration camps was located. It was an eye opener for them to learn from the Museum and then see the actual site. The original legislation provided significant matching funds in support of the construction of the Topaz Museum.
There were ten main camps and numerous other Federal incarceration facilities that imprisoned these citizens. A number of the sites have been designated National Monuments by Presidents of both parties. In some cases the National Parks Service operates facilities at these sites and in other cases private foundations have constructed learning centers. But more must be done. The matching funds provided by this program, have incentivized more private entities to expand educational opportunities. Each camp has committees comprised of the family members of those who were incarcerated and they have developed programs to upgrade the educational aspects of the sites. The Federal matching funds from this program promote public/private partnerships to upgrade and expand these educational opportunities.
Other programs have allowed students to study that era of injustice and visit the actual camps to get a clear understanding and feeling of what these facilities were and how the incarcerated had to exist.
Color guards and color bearers of the Japanese-American 442d Combat Team stand at attention while their citations are read at a ceremony in the Bruyeres area of France, where many of their comrades fell, Nov. 12, 1944. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps.
April 28, 2021
By Hana Rudolph, Assistant Director of American Jewish Committee’s Asian Pacific Institute
April 29 marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, the longest-operating Nazi concentration camp. A lesser-known part of that day is that Japanese-American troops played a key role in the liberation of Dachau and its satellite camps. Japanese-American soldiers also rescued thousands of survivors of a Nazi death march nearby, caring for them until medical personnel could arrive.
These troops were from the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, a detachment of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which consisted of second-generation Japanese Americans. Many of these soldiers enlisted directly from U.S. internment camps, where Japanese Americans were shamefully incarcerated. Ironically, the Japanese-American troops rescued and cared for Jewish victims of the Nazi death camps, even as their own families were still detained in U.S. internment camps.
The creation of the 442nd followed Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, when more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them born in the United States, were detained and relocated in the continental U.S. Over the course of the war, an estimated 18,000 Japanese Americans were enlisted and deployed to Europe.
Despite these circumstances, the Japanese-American soldiers were valorous. The 442nd became the most decorated regiment in U.S. military history, earning 21 Medals of Honor, over 9,000 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations and more – totaling more than 18,000 awards – for its actions during World War II. The 100th Battalion, a component of the 442nd, had such a high casualty rate that it was nicknamed the “Purple Heart Battalion.”
On April 29, 1945, several scouts from the 522nd came upon some barracks encircled by barbed wire. Technician Fourth Grade Ichiro Imamura described what was likely the Dachau subcamp of Kaufering IV in his diary: “I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gates shut. He said he just had to open the gates when he saw a couple of the 50 or so prisoners, sprawled on the ground, moving weakly. They weren’t dead, as he had thought. When the gates swung open, we got our first good look at the prisoners. Many of them were Jews. They were wearing black and white striped prison suits and round caps. A few had blanket rags draped over their shoulders. It was cold and the snow was two feet deep in some places. There were no German guards. They had taken off before we reached the camp.
“The prisoners struggled to their feet after the gates were opened. They shuffled weakly out of the compound. They were like skeletons — all skin and bones.”
In addition to its role in the liberation of Dachau, the 442nd is famous for its heroic rescue of the “Lost Battalion,” a group of more than 200 American soldiers encircled by Nazi forces. The unit’s motto “Go for Broke” — gambler’s slang meaning to put it all on the line — reflected the intense patriotism and bravery of its soldiers.
Members of the 442nd included Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm in combat and went on to serve in Congress, first as Hawaii’s sole representative and then as U.S. senator from 1963 until his death in 2012, as well as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate (third in the presidential line of succession).
Another member of the 442nd was Sus Ito, who later became a renowned biologist at Harvard Medical School. “He risked his life in defense of freedom and the country that had turned against his family,” Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO of Kind Snacks, wrote last year about Ito’s role in saving his father, uncle and grandfather. In 2015, Ito recounted his experience in the liberation of Dachau in an American Jewish Committee program jointly organized with the U.S.-Japan Council.
“You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice — and you won,” President Harry Truman told members of the 442nd after the war.
In reality, however, Japanese-American troops and those returning from internment camps continued to face prejudice in the form of exclusion laws, housing discrimination and even violence.
Indiscriminate fear and senseless hatred toward Asian Americans have never fully waned and have spiked in the past year. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the monitoring group Stop AAPI Hate has reported approximately 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans, including physical assault and verbal harassment.
At this time it is important to acknowledge the shared history of the Jewish-American and Asian-American communities. Our communities have been inextricably linked throughout U.S. history. For example, following the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, the United Chinese Americans delivered a letter of support from more than 100 Asian-American organizations voicing solidarity with the Jewish community.
The month of May is both Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This concurrent recognition of both peoples is an opportunity to celebrate not only the rich history and contributions of these two communities to the American experience, but also to note the deep history and friendship they share.
As we commemorate the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945, we should also remember the kindness and heroism of Japanese Americans in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Hana Rudolph is Assistant Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Asia Pacific Institute.
Co-piloting a weather recon plane - I was conscious of being different, but only in the sense of looking different.—Ben Furuta. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Furuta.
By Mia Nakaji Monnier / Discover Nikkei / May 31, 2018
Reprinted with permission.
Ben Furuta was only four when his family was forced out of Oakland, California, and incarcerated at Poston during WWII. “I have only flashes of memory, little incidents,” he says, like an image of his father with bandages on his arms, covering chemical burns he received at his camp job, working in the camouflage factory. He remembers older boys, teenagers or young men, who told stories of rattlesnakes in the shade canopies that “scared the bejeezus” out of the little kids.
The family only spent about a year at the concentration camp, after which they moved to Minneapolis on indefinite leave. Furuta’s father and uncle worked together growing bean sprouts to sell to Chinese restaurants. Once the war ended, they planned to move back to California, but instead, they stopped in Denver to visit another uncle and stayed. That’s where Furuta’s childhood memories really begin. In Denver, he and his family were part of a small but vibrant Japanese American community that he remembers revolving around two churches, Methodist and Buddhist. Furuta’s family belonged to the Methodist church, which sponsored a Boy Scout troop that he joined. He and his friends camped and played sports, and each year on Memorial Day, his family friends got together for a picnic and day at the park.
While Furuta was in high school, the Air Force began working to establish an academy nearby. He had always been interested in airplanes, so when the academy opened to applications just before his senior year of high school, he applied and was selected. His mother was not very expressive about his acceptance, but his father, on the other hand — “while he never said it, I’m sure he was really, I guess I wanna say proud,” says Furuta. “I was a little upset at him because he opened up the telegram that told me that I was accepted. I said, ‘You did what?’ And he was kind of jumping up and down. I know they were happy that I was accepted. You know, a little success on the part of their offspring.
Furuta in regular cadet uniform at the temporary academy site at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, winter 1957-58. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Furuta.
When he started at the Air Force Academy in 1956, in its second year of operation, Furuta became its first cadet of color, though he’s quick to disclaim that he doesn’t have written record of this, only his observation. “I was conscious of being different,” he says, “but only in the sense of looking different. What I remember is that I was accepted as a member of that class without question, and no one ever brought up the fact that I was ‘different’ or looked different or came from a different ethnic group.” At a recent reunion, he mentioned that feeling to a couple of his former classmates. One of them responded, “Well, we just took you as another one of the guys,” which validated for him that, at least among his friends, he belonged. “At the same time,” he says, “I realized I was different. Because, obviously — one of the jokes at one of my previous reunions was I’m the only one here that doesn’t need a name tag, if you know what I mean.”
At the academy, Furuta lived a regimented life of military training and academic classes. Especially during his freshman year, he and his classmates had a long list of rules to follow. When upperclassmen passed by, they had to stand against the wall to make way. During meals, they sat at attention, straight up with their eyes forward. They kept their beds made and their clothes hung precisely. “We had a certain amount of specific knowledge that we were responsible for, such as members of the government, the Air Force leaders, and Air Force history,” he says, “and we were expected to spout that stuff off at an instant.” Falling short in any of these ways meant demerits. A certain number of demerits meant “confinement to quarters” or “walking tours,” a formal term for marching on the quadrangle, back and forth, carrying your rifle, for an hour. But the cadets also went to football games, had dances with women from the local colleges, and Furuta phrases cagily, “found ways of shall we say, enjoying ourselves,” which after some prodding he translates to parties “in places other than the academy.”
Gduation from the Air Force Academy, June 1960. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Furuta.
After graduation, Furuta attended Air Force pilot training in Florida and Arizona, then in 1962 was assigned to a weather reconnaissance unit in Guam. The job involved making daily routine patrols, to monitor weather, keeping an eye out for storms like hurricanes and typhoons. He flew a WB-50, a long-range bomber (“an offshoot of the WWII B-29 bomber”) modified for weather reconnaissance, which carried a crew of ten, including two pilots, a flight engineer, a weather observer, scanners, and radio operators. Most of his patrols weren’t dangerous, except for one: Typhoon Karen, a Category 5 storm that blew through Guam in November of 1962 and remains one of the most destructive in the island’s history.
Monitoring Karen meant flying out early enough to penetrate the eye of the storm at 8 a.m., then flying around and penetrating it again around 4 p.m. before flying back to base. To reach the eye of the storm, Furuta’s crew had to fly through the wall cloud, the most turbulent, high-pressure zone immediately surrounding the eye. “The best way to deal with a wall cloud is to hit it perpendicularly because you would get through it very quickly,” he says, “so you would be in the wall cloud for really only a few moments. And then once you got into the eye, usually it was clear, in the sense that you could actually see the sky. We would fly around it, take the measurements that the weathermen needed to take, and then line up and go perpendicular back out.” They survived (“obviously”).
After fifteen months in Guam, Furuta was reassigned to Japan, where he lived on the Yokota Air Base in Fussa, Tokyo. Before living in Japan, the most Japanese people he’d seen in one place were in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo during Nisei Week. Even there, compared to Denver, he’d thought, “My god, there are all these Japanese people around.” In Japan, for the first time ever, everyone looked like him, but his language skills quickly gave him away as an American. He remembers one incident in Shinjuku Station: “I was walking down one of the walkways to get out of the station and I feel this tap on my shoulder, so I turn around, and there’s a lady there and she begins talking to me in Japanese. And I told her in my broken Japanese, ‘I don’t speak Japanese,’ and the look on her face was just amazing like, ‘You look like you’re Japanese.’”
Checking an aircraft in Georgia while on temporary duty from Japan. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Furuta.
In Japan, Furuta met and married his wife, Hideko, a distant cousin who came to meet him partly because she was learning English. He left the Air Force in 1965, before fighting escalated in the Vietnam War and it became more difficult to leave the military. “Six or eight months after I got out, they essentially said to other people of my generation, ‘You can’t leave,’” he says. His main motivation for leaving, though he says he could have just as easily decided to make a career of the Air Force, was that he wanted to go back to school to become a teacher. After returning to the U.S., he received his credential from UC Berkeley and started teaching in the Oakland Unified School District, before relocating to Southern California, where his parents had moved while he was at the academy.
Now, though he has retired from teaching, Furuta continues educating kids as a docent at the Japanese American National Museum. Unlike his class at the Air Force Academy, the classes that come through his tours are very diverse. “Especially where we are located, the people who come for these tours are really linked closely to immigration,” he says. “And so what I’m hoping will happen is by hearing the story of Japanese immigration and the incarceration, they will begin to appreciate their own history of immigration and start thinking about immigration issues and questions.”
© 2018 Mia Nakaji Monnier
[EdNote: Mia Nakaji Monnier's article "Ben Furuta, the Air Force Academy’s First Cadet of Color" was originally published in Discover Nikkei, a project of JANM, on May 31, 2018. The online version can be accessed at this link:
Armed with Language Documentary Poster of MIS Soldier Proofreading. Photo: Densho
Twin Cities PBS Press Release (edited)
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Twin Cities PBS (TPT) announced the release of a documentary on the MIS as a part of the Minnesota Experience series. The documentary titled, Armed with Language, premiered on May 17, 2021 and shed light on the contributions of Japanese Americans and their significant role during World War II and its connection to Minnesota.
Armed with Language shares the story of a little-known military intelligence school in Minnesota during World War II that trained over 6,000 Japanese Americans to be translators, interrogators, and Japanese military specialists. Shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States Military saw the need to recruit and train servicemen and women in Japanese language and culture. The military reached out to Nisei, the children of Japanese immigrants in America, for this crucial task. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s executive order to remove all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, the Nisei language school was forced to relocate, settling in Minnesota. Primarily recruited from internment camps, now also referred to as concentration camps on the West Coast, these men and women served while many of their families remained imprisoned. For their efforts, it is said that they “shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives.” After decades of being classified, the story of their courage, sacrifice, and patriotism is finally being told.
“During World War II, nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were incarcerated in desolate areas of the West in ten camps, each ringed by barbed wire fences and rifle towers with machine guns. My parents’ families were among those imprisoned,” said David Mura, acclaimed author, content advisor and writer of the film.“ As the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes makes clear, this racist refusal to distinguish between the countries of Asia and Americans of Asian descent continues to the present. This documentary about the MIS Nisei and the history of Japanese Americans is so necessary, particularly at this time.”
Watch Armed with Language by clicking this link: https://www.tpt.org/armed-with-language/video/armed-with-language-j17oiy/
David Mura, the documentary’s writer and narrator, wrote a personal reflection about working on the film which can be found here: https://www.tptoriginals.org/armed-with-language-world-war-ii-nisei-soldiers-have-so-much-to-teach/
About Twin Cities PBS
Twin Cities PBS (TPT)’s mission is to enrich lives and strengthen our community through the power of media. Established 64 years ago, TPT now operates as a public service media organization that harnesses a range of media tools to serve citizens in new ways — with multiple broadcast channels, online teaching resources, educational outreach and community engagement activities reaching more than 2 million people each month. Over its history, TPT has been recognized for its innovation and creativity with numerous awards, including Peabody awards and national and regional Emmy® Awards. Find more information at tpt.org.
[EdNote: Katie O'Rouke, Director, Armed with Language, Twin Cities, PBS, has approved the printing of this article.]
Co. B Casual Platoon holding B School Battalion flag in Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Names from left to right: Hiro Nakamura, Unknown, Jim (James) Murata, James Iwanaga, Most Okamura, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown. Photo: James Murata, Japanese American Military History Collective, http://ndajams.omeka.net/items/show/1057049.
"Facing the Mountain: A True Store of Japanese American Heros in World War II" is the new book by author Daniel James Brown, whose previous work was the bestseller “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.” Image: Courtesy of Viking Press.
Reprinted with permission by the Pacific Citizen, May 7-20, 2021.
By George Toshio Johnston, P.C. Senior Editor, Digital & Social Media
With the May 11, 2021 release of Daniel James Brown’s book “Facing the Mountain: The True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II,” as its subtitle states, it’s possible that the Japanese American experience on battlefields (and in courtrooms) of that era is finally about to be illuminated in a big, big way.
Author Daniel James Brown’s latest work is titled “Facing the Mountain.” Photo: Courtesy of Viking Press.
That’s because the bestselling author — whose 2013 book “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” was a career-making smash hit that turned the Seattle-based Brown into a brand-name superstar — has already generated news that “Facing the Mountain” might become a multipart series, with Hawaii-born Japanese American director Destin Daniel Cretton, helmer of the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe installment “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” attached to direct.
But a series is in the future, and the future, as the world had to learn with the continuing, unforeseen global pandemic that began in 2020, doesn’t always go according to plan.
The book “Facing the Mountain” is here, now and new, and in the coming weeks and months, Brown and Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda will be in the spotlight to discuss Brown’s 540-page book (ISBN 9780525557401), published by Viking with a suggested retail price of $30, that began when the two met in 2015 in Seattle, when they were among the honorees at the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.
Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda. Photo: Courtesy of Viking Press.
Brown was there to receive one of the many accolades for “The Boys in the Boat,” while Ikeda was there to be honored for, at that time, Densho’s two-decades of technology-driven efforts to digitally preserve and make accessible Japanese American history, whether digitized analog community newspapers like Pacific Citizen or video interviews of Japanese American community members.
It proved to be a fortuitous and serendipitous meeting. And, it helped that Brown, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, already had some second-hand knowledge of the Japanese American experience because of his father, who sold wholesale florist supplies to flower shops and nurseries.
Brown told the Pacific Citizen that his father was usually even-keeled — but he could never forget one of the rare times when he saw his father get visibly angry and that was when he relayed what had happened to his many Japanese American friends and customers during the war.
“A lot of these folks came back to greenhouses that had been shattered and businesses that had been closed and land that had been taken out from under them,” Brown said. “You’d sort of have to know my father to appreciate how rare it was that he would get that angry. But it really stuck with me as a kid.”
Following the ceremony, Brown introduced himself to Ikeda after hearing him discuss Densho and its mission. Ikeda, meantime, told the Pacific Citizen that he was familiar with Brown’s work, having read and enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat.”
Later, Brown went to Densho.org and began listening to some of the oral histories and was drawn to what he had heard.
“They were stories about perseverance and resilience and ordinary people confronting difficult times and challenges and having to overcome them,” Brown said.
The seed that had been planted at the Mayor’s Arts Awards was sprouting — but it was still a long way from becoming a book.
“At that point, I don’t think it was really clear to him what exact story he was going to tell,” Ikeda said, “so I remember just sharing kind of a range of oral histories … and we would just have conversations back and forth, and he would say, ‘Oh, this is really interesting,’ and as he started getting more interested in the military service, I was feeding him stories both on the MIS as well as the 442 as well as the earlier 100th.”
Brown’s recollections dovetailed with Ikeda’s.
“The deeper I went, the more intrigued I became,” Brown said.
“I started talking with Tom, and he and I spent about a year going back and forth talking about different scenarios and different possibilities for how this might be developed into a book.
“The challenge that we had, as we talked back and forth,” Brown continued, “was what would the story be because we’re talking something finite in terms of the book. You can’t tell the whole story of the Japanese American experience.”
Still, it was progress. Brown’s publisher, meantime, was chomping at the bit for a follow to “The Boys in the Boat.” But were they really interested in a book that focused on the experiences of some Japanese Americans during WWII? Did it have the crossover appeal it needed to approach the success of “The Boys in the Boat”?
“They didn’t seem to blink. I was wondering how that would go myself, for some sort of obvious reasons. Frankly, I think they were just glad to get a manuscript in hand,” Brown chuckled. “It had been many, many years that I had not been handing them anything. Actually, when they read the proposal for the book and sample chapters, they were all in right away.”
But before Brown could turn in a final draft last year, he needed to do the research. While Densho, the Go For Broke National Education Center and the Japanese American National Museum all were helpful resources, Brown also visited Hawaii and Europe, where the 442 fought, to do even more research. As welcome as it might seem to have to go to Hawaii and Italy to conduct research, for Brown, it was a necessity.
Contrasting what he recalled learning in school about the experiences Asians have had in the U.S., Brown said he thought he was “pretty well acquainted” with the Asian American and Japanese American communities.
“But, I will tell you, researching the book was in many ways a revelation to me,” Brown said. “I mean, I really dove deep into the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act and these various restrictive laws. I dove into the violence against Chinese immigrants, starting with the Gold Rush in the 1850s, the Yellow Peril years and all that. I’m an educated guy, and I had known all that existed, but it really brought it home to me in a way that it hadn’t before.”
Brown also noted that working on the book overlapped with the Trump administration.
“I was reading about all these families trying to make their way in America at the same time the ‘Muslim ban’ thing was going on and then doing a deep dive into the concentration camps at the same time the administration was breaking families up and incarcerating families,” he said. “My book is not overtly political, but it certainly was fueled by all that stuff that was going on.
“The process of researching the book deepened and sharpened my awareness in a way that surprised me because I thought I had known the story pretty well, which I suspect is true of a lot of non-Japanese Americans,” Brown continued. “I think that they feel that they know the story better than they really do.”
Related to that, Brown said he was “kind of stunned” when he was talking with some of the people associated with the book’s publisher at “how little they knew about the story.”
“I think it’s partly an East Coast/West Coast thing,” Brown said. “I was absolutely flabbergasted, actually, at how little they knew about what had happened. I think most of them had some vague idea that Japanese Americans were incarcerated during the war, but boy, that was as far as their understanding went. I don’t know why it hasn’t penetrated more. I don’t really know the answer.
“My book isn’t going to change the world here, but one of the reasons I wanted to write this book was my previous book was very successful, so I knew I’d have a big platform for this book. … When I started digging into these stories and meeting these family members, I really thought I wanted to use my heightened platform for making the story better known, particularly outside the Japanese American community, obviously.”
One of the obstacles Brown faced, too, was that so many of the people whose stories had been preserved had died. But he was able to spend extensive time with one of the four principal “characters” he ultimately settled on to tell the story, Fred Shiosaki of Seattle. Shiosaki was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s K Co., which was involved in the Rescue of the Lost Battalion.
“Fred fit neatly into the narrative I was trying to create because he was in the right places at the right time,” Brown said. But their relationship ended, however, when Shiosaki died at 96 on April 10.
The other men who have prominent roles in “Facing the Mountain” are Kats Miho, who was born in Hawaii on the island of Maui, and from the mainland like Shiosaki, Rudy Tokiwa and Gordon Hirabayashi, who wasn’t a soldier but someone who fought using the legal system against the injustice visited upon Japanese Americans by the federal government.
Top: Pvt. Fred Shiosaki. Photo: Shiosaki Family Collection. Below: Pvt. Rudy Tokiwa. Photo: Courtesy of the Tokiwa Family Collection.
Gordon Hirabayashi. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC9328.
Kats Miho at Maui High. Photo: Katsugo Miho Family Estate.
For Ikeda and Densho, working with Brown is just the latest part of the journey that began 25 years ago.
“Our mission is to preserve and share the stories of the World War II Japanese American incarceration to promote justice and equity today,” said Ikeda. “So, to have someone like Dan interested in the stories and consider writing a book really was, I think, in terms of what we were thinking, a way to share the story.”
Over the years, Ikeda said he has met many authors and filmmakers who were interested in the Densho repository. But there was something about Brown that stood out — how closely he listened.
“It didn’t seem like he was coming in with an agenda,” Ikeda said. “He was very curious. The thing that I noticed and appreciated was he listened to some thoughts and then he did the work. He actually went to our archive and learned how to use it.”
Before long, thanks to the research Brown had done, he soon learned and knew “things that I didn’t know,” Ikeda said. “It was, actually, at some point, a really interesting relationship in terms of sharing information.”
That relationship no doubt will continue to evolve in the coming weeks with the rollout of publicity for “Facing the Mountain.”
For Brown, having completed the book means he is still in a postcompletion refractory period. He did allow that he may try writing fiction for book No. 5.
Professionally, Brown is, at nearly 70, in a good place, with writing books for a living his third career; his first career was teaching English at the college level, which was followed by working as a technical writer and editor.
“Twenty years ago now, I just sort of on the side started writing a book about a piece of my family history.”
That was the basis for “Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894,” about a deadly forest fire in Minnesota that killed 350 people, one of whom was his great-grandfather.
The book did reasonably well, and Brown secured a contract for a second book, “The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party Bride.”
And, of course, there is Hollywood, what with “Facing the Mountain” on its way to becoming adapted for the screen and “The Boys in the Boat” looking ready to be directed by George Clooney.
But, as noted, that is all in the future. The book is now and Brown is hopeful that he achieved the book’s purpose — or as he put it: “I think contextualizing and putting this whole thing into human terms, terms that anybody can identify with, what it’s like to suddenly have your home taken away from you, and your business and your livelihood.
“That’s what I’m trying to do with the book — get people to open their hearts and look through a different set of eyes than they may have in the past and consider what it’s like to have these series of traumas inflicted on you and reflect on what that means with where we are today.”
[EdNote: George Toshio Johnston's article "Daniel James Brown, Densho Are ‘Facing the Mountain’ " is reprinted with permission by the Pacific Citizen www.pacificcitizen.org. The article originally appeared in PC's May 7-20, 2021, issue and can be accessed online at this link: https://www.pacificcitizen.org/daniel-james-brown-densho-are-facing-the-mountain/.]
National Museum of the United States Army. Photo Credit: U.S. Army
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