U.S. Post Office to Issue Nisei Postage Stamp This Week!

Go For Broke Stamp. Photo credit: U.S. Postal Service.

Special for JAVA by Wayne Osako

Los Angeles, CA. The Stamp Our Story Committee (SOSC) continues to be busy developing and preparing for the release of the Go For Broke Japanese American Soldiers of World War II commemorative stamp. The USPS will officially release the stamp this Thursday, June 3rd, through a prerecorded video from USPS headquarters.

The following day, the USPS allows special dedications to take place. SOSC is setting up the First City of Issuance – Los Angeles, California stamp unveiling on Friday, June 4th. The program is private, but it will be livestreamed at 9:30 a.m. PDT / 12:30 p.m PDT on Friday, June 4, 2021, and recorded for viewing online through the SOSC’s website, www.StampOurStory.org.

Honolulu (June 4th), Kauai (June 4th), Houston (June 4th), San Francisco (June 4th), Boise (June 13th), and Portland, Oregon (June 14th), will have stamp dedications that will follow the LA dedication. Links to view them will be available on the Stamp Our Story website as well.

One of SOSC’s tasks has been to develop a short video on the history of the stamp campaign. Developed through the generous volunteer efforts of filmmakers and documentarians Robert Horsting, Tim Yuge, and Kaia Rose, viewers will be able to hear founder Fusa Takahashi, and family members of the founders.

Filmed on May 8th, the production crew spent a long day documenting the history of what it took to get the stamp, and perspectives on the stamp’s meaning to people today.  “Viewers will get a glimpse into the efforts of the founders and the SOSC committee,” said Wayne Osako, SOSC Co-Chair. “The founders’ mission has been, and continues to be, to teach others about the American legacy of the Nisei Soldiers through the stamp.”

SOSC has also developed an educational curriculum for 3rd-6th grade that teachers can use. Through the generous efforts of the Anaheim Elementary School District in collaboration with SOSC, educators now have a way to bring the story of the Nisei Soldiers of the war into their classrooms. Go to the “Education” tab on the Stamp Our Story website for links. The curriculum includes a teacher’s guide, slideshow, YouTube art lesson video, and a special interview with 100th Battalion veteran Don Miyada (96). SOSC is developing future educational programming following the stamp dedications — a GoFundMe site is being established where people can contribute to help, which will soon be found through the SOSC website.

Wayne Osako (Co-Chair), Aiko O. King (CoFounder), and Fusa Takahashi (CoFounder), at the May 8, 2021 interview in Anaheim, CA. Photo: Courtesy of Wayne Osako.
Behind the scenes at the May 8, 2021 interview in Anaheim, CA. Robert Horsting (right) talks to Tim Yuge. Photo: Courtesy of Wayne Osako.

Nisei Veterans Legacy (NVL), Hawaii – Stamp News

Go For Broke Soldiers Commemorative Forever Stamp

Dear Friends:

Here is the latest information on the Go For Broke Soldiers Commemorative Forever Stamp:

On June 4, 2021, the Stamp will be unveiled in Hawai’i. As I shared previously, for 15 years, three amazing Los Angeles (LA) Nisei women, all of whom were incarcerated during the war – Fusa Takahashi, Aiko O. King, and the late Chiz Ohira – worked tirelessly with Wayne Osako, an LA sansei, toward the creation of this Forever Stamp, as a way to tell the story of the Nisei Soldiers of World War II (WWII).  Fusa and Chiz were married to Nisei Soldiers.The Hawai’i Stamp Organizing Committee, comprised of representatives from Hawai’i’s Nisei Veteran organizations, planned this unveiling and invites the public to view it starting at 11:00 am HST on Friday, June 4, 2021, via live stream at:  https://www.nvlchawaii.org. Due to COVID concerns there will be no audience.  The event will be held at the historic 100th Infantry Battalion Clubhouse in Honolulu, Hawaii.  

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will present a pre-recorded national stamp dedication event on June 3, 2021, the Stamp’s First Day of Issue, featuring Hawai’i’s own General David A. Bramlett, U.S. Army (Ret).  The pre-recorded event may be viewed on facebook.com/USPS, or twitter.com/USPS. For more information see:  https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2021/0514ma-usps-will-honor-japanese-american-veterans-with-the-go-for-broke-forever-stamp.htm. Information about how to purchase this stamp is also on this website.

Other planned Hawaii events include:

  • Kaua’i will be holding a Go For Broke Soldiers Commemorative Stamp unveiling event at the Līhuʻe Neighborhood Center on June 4, 2021.  Mayor Derek Kawakami, State Representatives Nadine Nakamura and James Tokioka, and Nisei Veteran Norman Hashisaka will speak at the ceremony.  Hō’ike Kaua’i Community Television will record the event and post the video on its YouTube channel at https://hoike.org.
  • The Maui County Council will present a Resolution in Honor of Go For Broke Stamp Day on June 4, 2021, to be broadcast on Akaku Television.  Mayor Michael Victorino is proclaiming the day as Go For Broke Stamp Day in a private event.

For more background on the Nisei Soldier Story and the significance of the Go For Broke Soldiers Stamp, you can also view a May 10, 2021, 30-minute ThinkTech Hawaii interview that I participated in at: https://youtu.be/LaNj40TevXw.

Mahalo for your interest in this milestone event to honor the service, sacrifice and legacy of all the Nisei Soldiers who served during WWII. Hope you can view the livestream on June 4. 2021.

Lynn Heirakuji, President, Nisei Veterans Legacy

73rd Annual Memorial Day Service

Memorial Day Salute. Left to Right: Gerald Yamada, LTG Michael K. Nagata, USA, (Ret); LTC Mark Nakagawa, USA (Ret), Capt. (Dr.) Cynthia Macri, MC, USN (Ret), Howard High, Turner Koyabashi. Photo: N. Ford. 

Arlington National Cemetery.  Members of the Japanese American Citizens League, Washington DC Chapter, the Japanese American Veterans Association, and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation gathered for the 73rd time on Sunday, May 30, 2021, to pay tribute to Japanese American soldiers who lost their lives in defense of our nation and all soldiers buried at Arlington. 

The Memorial Day Service program, which has been organized every year since 1948 by the Kobayashi family and is the longest-running Memorial Day Service at Arlington, opened with a welcome by Turner Kobayashi. After a warm greeting, Turner acknowledged guests including the Principal of Spark Matsunaga Elementary School, Mr. James Sweeney. He also recognized two Japanese American soldiers who recently passed away and are at Arlington National Cemetery: Capt. Norio Bruce Endo, USN, and Sgt. Kay Megumi Sato, 442nd RCT. Turner then turned the podium over to event speakers.

JACL DC Chapter Co-President Linda Sato Adams reflected on the Service’s theme of “Honoring the Legacy of the Nisei Soldiers” by sharing memories of her father’s experiences during World War II. Although her father did not speak often about his military days, Ms. Sato Adams did recall him opening up about his Camp Shelby training after a visit to a Smithsonian exhibit titled A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the US Constitution. Her father described the unspoken ethos of the JA soldiers, which despite differences between the “Buddha heads and Katonks,” was to help those lagging behind – carrying their pack, gun, whatever it took – so that all could succeed. Although the war stories were few, her father’s tales always conveyed the strong bonds and kinship the soldiers in the 100th/442nd had for one another. Next, JAVA President Gerald Yamada commented on the recent rise in anti-Asian sentiment and reminded listeners of the personal struggle Japanese American soldiers in WWII faced as they defended the U.S. while enduring, along with their families, unjust treatment under the law and discrimination from other Americans. Answering the call to serve and having faith in America allowed Japanese American soldiers to overcome prejudice. Yamada urged all to look to the Japanese American soldiers of World War II, “follow their example and do what we can to ensure that the government provides equal protection to all Americans. (See Yamada’s full remarks below.) Following Gerald Yamada, NJAMF Board member and longtime JAVA member, LTC Mark Nakagawa, U.S. Army (Ret), remarked on the hard and arduous path of Japanese American World War II soldiers, one paved with heroism, valor, and loss of life. That path opened up opportunities for subsequent generations to serve and take on leadership roles in Korean, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts. He added that the qualities and values, such as “gaman” (enduring the seemingly unendurable quietly and with patience), “giri “(one’s duty to follow the strict rules and norms of society), and “on” (obligationthat led to JA soldiers’ military success, are also evident in the 15-year stamp campaign that is culminating in the USPS release of the Go For Broke Forever Stamp. By honoring the legacy of 100th, 44nd, and MIS soldiers, Nakagawa is certain that these important values will be passed down.

After an introduction by Gerald Yamada, noting a distinguished 38-year career in the military, Keynote Speaker, LTG Michael K. Nagata, U.S. Army (Ret), recounted and inspired listeners with the origins of Memorial Day which can be traced back to the Civil War and the more recent genesis of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. (See LTG Nagata’s full remarks below.) General Nagata also underscored that the sacrifices and contributions of the Nisei and Asian American and Pacific Islander soldiers “are a reminder of the strength and vibrancy of an America that, at its best, strives to harness and propel the virtues and strengths of all of its people, regardless of origins, religion, race, gender, and so on.” General Nagata then movingly recounted his early military career and lessons learned in responding to bigotry and prejudice. He recommended that listeners rather than succumb to outrage and frustration, should “choose a different path…that combines recognizing how far we have progressed despite all of our remaining flaws and terrible failures. It is the path that accepts the risk of trying to be better; which also requires the courage of attempting solutions that may fail, but by learning from failure, as humans always have, we will learn to make future progress.” With his message of effort despite great obstacles, General Nagata gave listeners hope as they looked out on the markers of those who had sacrificed so much. 

Michelle Amano, the grandaughter of Mike Masaoka, then offered a Special Tribute to her great uncle Ben Frank Masaoka who was killed while fighting to free the lost Texas Battalion. She shared the last exchange between her grandfather and his brother Ben Frank. Ben Frank was drawn to help his comrades press on and went to the front line even though his commanding officer had told him he could remain in a less hazardous area. Ben Frank exemplified honor and duty. She followed the tribute with a reading of the Japanese American Creed which was penned by her grandfather. A bugler’s somber TAPs brought the 73rd Memorial Day Service to a close. 

[EdNote: The 73rd Memorial Day Service was livestreamed and recorded on the JAVA Facebook page. To view a recording of the 2021 Memorial day Service click here.]

Keynote Speaker LTG Michael K. Nagata, USA (Ret). Photo: N. Ford.

LTG Michael K. Nagata, USA (Ret)

2021 JACL, JAVA, NJAMF Memorial Day Service Remarks (As Prepared)

Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Japanese American Citizens League, the Japanese American Veterans Association, and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation and for inviting me to attempt a small contribution to this important Memorial Day observance, and particularly on such hallowed ground as Arlington National Cemetery.

It is a privilege and honor to address all of you today as we recognize the significance of Memorial Day, and at the same time, having had the chance to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month across the United States.  As a career Military member who also happens to be of Japanese descent, that convergence is both remarkable and poignant in ways that I know that so many in this audience, and many thousands more who are finding other venues to reflect on all that has come before us, are recognizing and remembering this month.

As we all learn in school, the origins of Memorial Day trace back to the American Civil War in the late 1800s.  In fact, the ground that we stand on today was part of that upheaval, and in ways only the unpredictable trajectory of human history can create, went from being the ancestral home of General Robert E. Lee during a time of enormous divisiveness and fratricidal conflict, to becoming America’s most important National Cemetery that honors the sacrifices that have been necessary to secure and advance American unity and liberty.  After that catastrophic upheaval in the 1800s, wherein a million Americans became casualties, a movement that some began calling “Decoration Day” gradually evolved into what is now formally enshrined as the national, annual observance we are here to honor and celebrate.

The millions of American men and women who have served in our Armed Forces over our history, and in many cases have truly given the last, full measure of devotion, have only reinforced the importance and significance of this day and of this place.  I’m sure that almost everyone who can hear me today knows of someone, or perhaps even has someone in your own family, who deployed overseas in defense of this Nation, and came back bearing the scars of conflict, or perhaps has been laid to rest in hallowed ground somewhere, including this place all around us.

We are all taught in school that the Civil War was based on a profound schism among the American people over the enslavement of the Black population in our country.  It may seem today like such a distant, perhaps even archaic, fact that almost 20% of the American population once lived without freedom.  Yet, even now, we are faced with unsettling reminders that we still too often struggle to achieve the ideals of equality and freedom… just in this past  year we’ve had too many reminders of continued mistreatment of minorities of all types, including Asian Americans.  We should certainly recognize America has made enormous changes and progress since the 1800s, but it is also obvious that we still have a long way to go to fully realize the standard that Martin Luther King once urged all of us to strive for… that the content of our character should matter far more than our race or, indeed, anything else… and we must recognize that our own children, and our grandchildren, will have to continue to work to advance this after we are gone.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month has a more recent pedigree— it was formally introduced as a proposal in Congress in 1977, and was signed into law a year later.  Very importantly, the month of May was chosen to mirror the completion of America’s transcontinental railroad in May of 1869, and as I’m sure most of you know, to recognize the tremendous and back-breaking labor, and unfortunately the often terrible mistreatment, of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who built that railroad for America, and laid the foundations of so much of the prosperity and “sea to shining sea” traditions that we enjoy today.  Another driver of the creation of this day is something that I and many in this audience have a historical family connection to, and it was the bravery and heroic example that thousands of young Japanese-American men and women gave us during World War II, in the face of terrible treatment by the very Government they chose to serve.

My remarks today are my attempt to blend the two themes that emerge from my own reflections on the significance of both our Memorial Day and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month… the first being a primarily military observance, and the other a more broadly cultural, societal, and perhaps even spiritual one.

Many of us here are an example of this “blending.”  Both sides of my own family immigrated to the United States, seeking opportunity and an escape from poverty, from Japan in the 1930s… just before World War II began.  I spent a career of nearly four decades in the U.S. Military, and my father was also an Army officer after the War, serving more than two decades as an Army Chaplain.  He and I shared the experiences of deploying into harm’s-way in defense of America, though we both had to sometimes deal with various degrees of discrimination and prejudice, whether from our military colleagues or from some of the very same Americans we were striving to safeguard.

But, a far more important and compelling example lies a little farther back, in the America of the 1940s.  As is now widely known, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 by Imperial Japan, the United States Government decided to gather all persons of Japanese ancestry in many of our Western States, most of whom were American Citizens, and place them in so-called “Internment Camps” scattered across those States for the duration of the war.  Over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forced to abandon their homes, surrender their property, close or sell their businesses, relinquish their relationships with American society, and were essentially imprisoned for years without any due process or right of appeal.  Even the U.S. Supreme Court of that day upheld this practice… a blot on the history of that body.

But, as sometimes happens in the wake of tragedy, unexpected and powerful events can emerge that show all of us what it is to rise above even the worst of circumstances.

History now records that, in the wake of this disgraceful Government treatment of its own Citizens…. obviously driven by racial bias and bigotry… over 33,000 Japanese Americans nonetheless volunteered for U.S. military service during that terrible conflict.  Two of the most notable examples of this choice to willingly serve a Government that had betrayed them were the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service of the U.S. Army.

In the case of the 442nd, three complete combat infantry Battalions were raised… one comprised by young Japanese-American men from Hawaii, and the other two battalions were raised in the Continental States… and often from the very Internment camps where their mothers, fathers, and siblings remained imprisoned. One small footnote-  I’m very proud to say that I had three uncles, from both sides of my family, who served in the Regiment.  Yet, even though all these men had volunteered to serve, the U.S. Army of the time would not allow Japanese-Americans to be officers, so these three battalions, and the entire Regiment itself, were only commanded by white officers during the war.  Yet, despite these things, the 442nd would go on to participate in some of the most important military campaigns in the liberation of Europe, and in the process, become the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in U.S. military history; and sadly also absorb terrible casualties among its ranks.  When I’ve had the chance to ask the surviving veterans why they fought so hard, and sacrificed so much, they would always tell me that they were determined to prove not only their own loyalty to the United States, but by extension, prove that their Families were loyal Americans as well… despite how they had been treated.

The Military Intelligence Service was also comprised of thousands of Japanese Americans, both men and women, again many of them volunteering from the Internment Camps, who served in intelligence and communications roles to support America’s campaigns in the Pacific.  Rather predictably, very few Americans understood either the Japanese language or Japanese culture, and waging war against Imperial Japan across the enormous Asia-Pacific region… including all of Southeast Asia and much of China, made the language translation and intelligence contributions of these volunteers strategically vital for eventually compelling the Japanese government to unconditionally surrender to the U.S.and its Allies in 1945.  These men and women who silently served in the Military Intelligence Service were decisive and irreplaceable for that victory.

And, of course, over America’s history, thousands of similar stories can be told of the contributions and sacrifices of so many other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in defending or strengthening America… whether in or out of uniform, whether in or out of Government.  Collectively they are all a reminder of the strength and vibrancy of an America that, at its best, strives to harness and propel the virtues and strengths of all of its people, regardless of origins, religion, race, gender, and so on.

As I reflect on my own life and career as a Japanese American who chose a path of military service, I am struck by how incredibly fortunate I have been… not only because I was born in the United States, but because I was able to enjoy a highly successful Military Career that both challenged me and strengthened me in ways that I never imagined when a very much younger version of me first enlisted in 1981.

That’s not to say that discrimination or prejudice were unknown to me.  It is important to recall that, in the post-Vietnam era when I joined the Army, race-relations within the U.S. military were alarmingly bad, and often violent… particularly between black and white soldiers.  I have very vivid memories of being warned, the very first time a young 2nd Lieutenant Nagata pulled the night duty called “Staff Duty Officer” in my infantry battalion in Korea, about the possibility of a violent melee in any of the barracks that I had to monitor until the morning.  Nothing even remotely like that exists today, four decades later, and one need look no further than the fact we today have a black Air Force Chief of Staff and even a black Secretary of Defense to see how much things have improved.  But, that also should not mean we can afford to rest on our laurels.  Among the many things that we will all have cause to regret during the past year of a historic pandemic, we must also regret and deal with the mistreatment of minorities that we saw, all too vividly.

There were also my own experiences with bigotry and discrimination as I rose through the ranks since then that were sharp reminders for me that America still has work to do to realize the ideal expressed in our own Declaration of Independence, that all of us are “created equal.” I did not always react as effectively as I should have, occasionally lapsing into either self-pity or fruitless anger.  But, when I was at my best, I instead chose to use these unhappy experiences as motivations to just be better.  Even all these years later, after one of those unhappy experiences, I can remember a small voice in my head saying, “okay, then I’m just going to prove that I’m better than these people that wish to discriminate against me…”  That was often neither the easy nor the safe path to take, but I guess I was either too stubborn, or perhaps just too young, to see how difficult and risky that kind of reaction could be.  But, in the end, I somehow managed to retire after 38 successful years in uniform, as a Lieutenant General, and as the most senior Asian American to serve in U.S. Special Operations Forces… so I guess it didn’t turn out too bad.

So here we are… seeking to celebrate these two important observances while we also begin clawing our way out of the dark, COVID tunnel we’ve been in, and weighed down by the controversies, outrages, and scandals of the past year.  We sometimes are inundated by pronouncements and reporting that seem to all be trying to remind us of how angry, or sad, or regretful, or frustrated we should be.  It’s so easy to focus on what brings us down or what divides us… and it is all too often the path of least resistance these days.

Yet, my own experiences that I’ve tried to share with you today cause me to choose a different path, and I commend this path to all of you.  It is the path that combines recognizing how far we have progressed despite all of our remaining flaws and terrible failures.  It is the path that accepts the risk of trying to be better; which also requires the courage of attempting solutions that may fail, but by learning from failure, as humans always have, we will learn to make future progress.  And it is the path that allows us the opportunity, and encourages our ability, to occasionally lay down our burdens and toils for a brief time, to look back, and both remember and honor those who came before us.  Those millions of our Citizens who offered up their very lives and fortunes for defending America and what it has tried to stand for since the American Revolution.  And among and alongside those veterans, the millions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have contributed so much, often against great odds and deep-seated prejudices, toward building a better country and a more generous humanity.

Do I follow this path I’ve described for you perfectly?  Of course not… I have feet of clay just like anyone else.  But I remain determined to try… and I see today’s event with you as a way of reminding myself that this is how even this retiree can still “give back” to the admittedly imperfect America that nonetheless has truly been the land-of-opportunity for me and my family.

It’s been a privilege to speak to all of you on this important occasion, and I pray that fair fortune will smile on each and every one of you, and all your loved ones, in the months and years ahead.  Thank you for listening to me, Godspeed to all of you, and though it may seem rather old fashioned to some, on this day, and in this place, where we are surrounded by the spirits so many of America’s heroes… may an ever kind and watchful providence continue to steady our hands and guide our sometimes faltering feet, safeguard our children and the fruits of our labors, and protect and advance what I still believe is the greatest ongoing experiment in human liberty, the United States of America.

JAVA President, Gerald Yamada. Photo: N. Ford.

ANC Memorial Day Service Remarks (As Prepared)

May 30, 2021

Gerald Yamada

JAVA President

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.”

Japanese American Veterans 2021 Joint Memorial Service at the Japanese American National War Memorial Court

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 

Minister Mukai Presented with JAVA Award at Farewell Dinner

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. 

A Brief History of the Japanese in Watsonville, California

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.]

Floyd Mori Testifies for Confinement Sites Grant Program

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.HR 1931 will continue the work of the JACS program continuing to fund these projects, but it will also expand funding to further coordinate programming and promotion of education about the Japanese American experience. This additional funding will work with the existing JACS program and its projects, but with the potential to create stronger infrastructure for the community to ensure that education programs are sustainable and permanent for broader segments of the population and future generations. This is a part of history that should not be repeated and learning more about this shameful period will prevent many injustices to occur in the future. I urge you to support this concept and vote for the passage of HR 1931 that has bi-partisan support. Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you today. 

Japanese Americans Helped Liberate Dachau. They Deserve Our Support In The Fight Against Hate

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

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.[EdNote: Shira Loewenberg. Director, Asia Pacific Institute. American Jewish Committee, sent Hana Rudolph’s article to David Inoue, Executive Director of JACL, who, in turn, sent it to JAVA President.  Loewenberg approved our reprint. We appreciate Rudolph’s detailed coverage of the 522nd. Well Done.]

Hana Rudolph is Assistant Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Asia Pacific Institute

Ben Furuta, the Air Force Academy’s First Cadet of Color

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.”

Graduation 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:


MIS Documentary produced by Twin Cities PBS

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

Daniel James Brown, Densho Are ‘Facing the Mountain’

The bestselling author of ‘Boys in the Boat’ puts the spotlight on the 442nd in a new book.

“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.
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 Musuem of the United States Army to Reopen!

National Musuem of the United States Army to Reopen! June 14, 2021

National Museum of the United States Army. Photo Credit: U.S. Army.
Admission is Free. Timed-entry Tickets are Required. For more information: https://www.thenmusa.org/.