Nikkei Serve their Nation in all Wars since the Spanish American War; Filipinos and Chinese Preceded Japanese
Seaman First Class Nisei Nobuteru Harry Sumida, Manzanar hospital. Besidehis cot is a stand on which there were five post card size photos of Johanna.Photo by Ansel Adams
JAVA Research Team
Washington, DC. Nobuteru Harry Sumida, a Nisei, and eight Japanese nationals who enlisted in the US Navy as seamen were the first Nikkei to serve in the US armed forces. The men all served in the Spanish American War of 1898, when the US declared war on Spain, resulting in US acquisition of Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and removal of Spain as a Caribbean power. They were followed by Kenji Inomata, a Japanese national who joined the US Navy in 1906 and eventually received US citizenship. Remarkably, Inomata was the only known ethnic Japanese resident of Los Angeles exempt from the mass internment of those with Japanese ancestry during WWII. Throughout the internment period, Inomata was allowed to continue to reside at his home in Los Angeles.
The Nikkei, however, were not the first Asia Pacific Americans to serve in America’s wars. Filipinos served in the War of 1812 and Filipino, Chinese, and nationals of various southeast and south Asia nations served in the Union and Confederate armies in the Civil War.
From their settlement in the Mississippi delta region of southeast Louisiana, Filipinos served in the army of Jean Baptiste Lafitte and MG Andrew Jackson to defeat the British in Louisiana in 1815. These Filipinos, who had served on the crews of Spanish galleons transporting goods from Manila and Acapulco, jumped ship at New Orleans beginning in 1763. And in 1587, twenty years before Jamestown, Virginia, was settled and 189 years before the US was founded, Filipinos had arrived in Morro Bay, California, located midway between San Jose and Los Angeles.
The first Chinese arrived in the US in 1815 to work on the transcontinental railroad and by the time of the Civil War there were about two hundred living in the eastern US, some working in the cotton fields. About sixty Chinese men served in the Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War and three held corporal ranks commanding white troops.
Documented Nisei military service in the US began with Nobuteru Harry Sumida who was born in New York City on December 25, 1871. Ansel Adams’s book, Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans, as well as other sources, reports that Sumida was raised by Caucasian foster parents soon after he was born and never knew his birth parents. Educated at New York City public schools, Sumida graduated from a Manhattan high school. He learned Japanese through self-study; he ordered books from Japan and gained proficiency in Japanese literature. He also worked on a sailing ship, which visited Kobe, Japan, but he did not go ashore.
In 1891 Sumida enlisted in the US Navy and was assigned as a gunner on the USS Indiana. During the 1898 Spanish American War battle in Santiago Bay, Cuba, he received shrapnel wounds in his leg that disabled him permanently and for which he received a monthly government compensation. At the time of his discharge in 1899, his rank was Seaman First Class. In 1904, at age 32, Sumida married Johanna Schmidt in NY. Ansel Adams’s book noted Johanna died in 1941 and that they had no children. When WW II began, Sumida lived in Temple Sanitarium in Los Angeles. In the 1942 mass evacuation, Sumida was placed in the Manzanar Internment Camp Hospital because of rheumatism in his leg caused by the war wound. In time he was transferred to the Manzanar senior center.
In addition to Seaman First Class Sumida, eight Japanese nationals served as US Navy seaman in the Spanish American War of 1898. The eight Japanese nationals were among the two hundred sixty seamen who perished when the USS Maine sank in the Havana, Cuba, harbor as the result of an explosion. Some seamen’s bodies and remains were eventually recovered with ten declared missing. The names of the dead USS Maine seamen including the eight Japanese nationals are inscribed on the USS Maine Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. The Japanese nationals who sank with the USS Maine are also listed on the Japanese American War Memorial Court in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, the only location where ethnic Japanese killed in combat in all wars are memorialized.
Also during the Spanish American War of 1898, Japanese nationals Kenji Inomata and his friend, speaking very little English, arrived in New York City as stowaways – jumping overboard and swimming ashore as their ship approached New York harbor. According to the book Pure Winds Bright Moon by Kenji’s grandson, Kinji Inomata, as well as other sources, in 1906 Inomata enlisted in the US Navy as a Third Class Mess Attendant. He traveled the world with the Navy, earning promotions and eventually serving as Steward to captains and commanders who commended him for trust and integrity. After 30 years of service, Inomata retired as Petty Officer First Class and lived in Los Angeles, CA. He also became a naturalized US citizen. However, the date of naturalization is not available. In 1918, he married Genevieve Beckham, who was of Caucasian and African heritage. Following his military service, in 1937, Inomata worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. When WW II broke out, Kenji Inomata was exempted from the mass internment and allowed to live a normal life in the home he bought in Los Angeles, although it is not known if he held his job at the LA Department of Water and Power during the war. The Inomata family military service continued as Kenji and Genevieve’s son, Takeo, served in the 442nd RCT.
When the US entered WW I on April 5, 1917 an announcement in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean urged “nationals of Allied countries” to enlist in the Hawaii National Guard as “this would help you obtain US citizenship.” However, the examiner for US Naturalization Service amended the statement; instead, he said “oriental veterans” were not eligible for naturalization, only the “white race” or “African race” were eligible. Nevertheless, a large number of Japanese nationals applied to the Hawaii National Guard. Due to the large number, the Japanese nationals were placed in a separate unit, Company D, with a Japanese national as commander. All written and oral communication were in Japanese. After the war, on November 14, 1919, US Judge Horace Vaughn allowed 400 Japanese national soldiers to be naturalized. Yet when Judge Vaughn’s term ended six years later the territorial government voided his decision.
Thelong and arduous road for ethnic Japanese and other Asian immigrants to gain naturalizedUS citizenship came to an end in 1952 with the passage of the Immigration and NationalityAct which allowed Asian immigrants to become US citizens. [JRT thanks AARP (Ron Mori and Ryan Letada); NPSManzanar Historic Site (Alisa Lynch); Pacific Citizen (Susan Yokoyama); Libraryof Congress (William Elsbury); Densho (Tom Okino); and MG Taguba, USA (Ret) fortheir support.]
Petty Officer First Class Kenji Inomata, naturalized US Citizen
The 838 men in Company D, referred to as “Japanese company”, of the Hawaii National Guard were immigrant Japanese aspiring to become US citizens. Communications, written and oral, were in the Japanese language. Photo from Library of Congress.
Ted Tsukiyama, Father of NARA Project
JAVA Research Team
Ted Tsukiyama, 98, died on February 13, 2019 in Honolulu.Tsukiyana was an authoritative historian for the 100th Battalion, 442ndRegimental Combat Team (RCT) and Military Intelligence Service (MIS). This tributediscusses JAVA’s relationship with Tsukiyama, a JAVA member, pertaining to thedigitization of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) documentson the 100th, 442nd, MIS and a small part of the internment.
When Japan attacked Honolulu on December 7, 1941, Universityof Hawaii ROTC cadets were issued weapons to defend key locations. Twenty-sixdays later, the ROTC cadets were discharged because the government viewed themas enemy aliens. Determined to prove their loyalty, 169 Nisei cadets obtainedthe military governor’s approval to serve as civilian construction laborers tobuild roads and buildings and crush rocks. Calling themselves the VarsityVictory Volunteers (VVV), their espirit de corps and patriotism must haveimpressed Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who from a distance observedthe VVV at labor. Soon after McCloy’s return to Washington, DC the call wentout in January 1943 for volunteers to form the 442nd RCT. Members of the VVVvolunteered immediately and en bloc. While in basic training at Camp Shelby, MS,Tsukiyama and his colleagues with Japanese language proficiency weretransferred to the MIS for intensive Japanese language training. Following training,Tsukiyama was assigned tothe China-Burma-India theater where his duties included monitoring enemycommunications.
On one of Tsukiyama’s visits to Washington, DC in early 1990,he engaged Dr. Susumu (Sus) Yamamoto and wife Fumie to visit NARA to make copies of official documents pertaining to the 100th and the 442nd RCT. TheYamamoto’s and Maggie Ikeda, widow of Lt Chick Ikeda, made weekly visits toNARA pro bono for ten years (until health issues prevented Dr. Yamamoto fromcontinuing the work). In all, they sent 25 linear feet of photocopied documentsto the 442nd Veterans, Hawaii. The tremendous value of the copied documents wasrealized for the first time in 1998 when a review produced names and citationsof Distinguished Service Cross awardees who met the criteria for upgrades toMedal of Honor.
In 2002, Tsukiyama proposed to JAVA an arrangementwhereby JAVA would collect the documents at NARA and Tsukiyama would arrangefunding from the 442nd,100th and MIS veterans in Honolulu. LTC Dave Buto, USA(Ret), a West Point graduate and JAVA Secretary, suggested a digitalcollection, which was approved. A team of JAVA researchers and scanners visitedNARA pro bono for eight years, until 2010, to digitize the Nisei military andinternment documents as they related to the 100th, 442nd and MIS. To accessthe NARA database go to http://www.javadc.org/search.php. Or,go to https://java.wildapricot.org/Research-Archiveand look for the “Click here" to locate archived documents.
These NARA documents are now accessible to any researcherelectronically from anywhere in the world. Researchers can call for theinformation using key words and dates, a feature not available at NARA. Thisdatabase contributes substantively to achieving the goal of perpetuating thestory of Nisei military experience during WW II. The person with the vision to accomplishthis goal was Ted Tsukiyama, known among JAVA members as the Father of the NARA Project.
Tsukiyama in NARA’s reading room. Photo by Chosei Kuge.
Maj Richard Noboru Hamasaki, US Army
July 5, 1919 - November 24, 2018
San Francisco, CA. Maj Richard Noboru Hamasaki, 99, died peacefully at his home on November24, 2018. Born in Paauilo, Hawaii, Hamasaki attended McKinley High School, wentto Japan with his parents and returned to Hawaii before the start of WW II. Draftedin March 1941, he was assigned to the 298th Infantry Regiment at SchofieldBarracks, and subsequently the 100th Infantry Battalion. Like other 100th soldiers,he trained at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 100thwas then deployed to Salerno, Italy where they joined the 34th Infantry “RedBull” Division.
Hamasaki served in all of 100th campaigns up to the invasion of Bruyeres, France in the Vosges campaign, where he was wounded, thus ending his service in Europe. By this point Hamasaki had received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, four Purple Heart medals, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for valor and the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation. In addition, Hamasaki received a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant. The commission influenced his decision to make the US Army his career choice. He also married Setsuko Nao, a student at the University of Minnesota. Hamasaki’s next assignment was at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and soon after moved to the counterintelligence corps in Yokohama, Japan.
When the Korean War broke out Hamasaki was assigned to the 5th Regimental Combat Team in Korea, where he was awarded his second Silver Star. Apparently, in an arrangement with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) he was transferred to CIA while still on active duty status and worked in Tokyo. In 1965 the CIA assigned Hamasaki to South Vietnam in an intelligence role.
In 1975, having served 20 years in the US Army and 14 years in civil service, with combat duty in WW II and the Korean War and intelligence duty in Vietnam, Hamasaki decided to retire with his wife in the San Francisco Bay Area. He pursued his hobbies of gardening and golf, the latter of which Hamasaki honed to a single digit handicap. He also worked part time as a salesman for noted golf professional, Bob McCaffery. His three children are in the education profession.
Questions or Suggestions: Please contact Neet Ford, JAVA e-Advocate Editor, at email@example.com.
Japanese American Veterans Association: (202) 494-1978, Address: P.O. Box 341998, Bethesda, MD 20827 I https://java.wildapricot.org
Facebook • Twitter • LinkedIn • Donate