Monday, Sept. 13, 1999

U.S. Army Museum
George Niino heads the line of Japanese-American
inductees receiving serial numbers at Schofield
Barracks during World War II.

Relatives interned,
they went to war

Japanese-Americans from
Hawaii fought to disprove
doubts about their loyalty

By Richard Borreca


Larry Nakatsuka, a 24-year-old Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter, watched the rows and rows of proud Americans of Japanese Ancestry march down King Street and onto the Iolani Palace grounds.

The 2,000 new soldiers filled the site on March 28, 1943. As Nakatsuka saw friends and relatives, he struggled to maintain his objectivity.

"I was proud, of course, but I was sad -- it was a very difficult time especially as a reporter, knowing the background of how they came to be there and still not lose your identity as a reporter," Nakatsuka recalled.

It became one of the defining stories of patriotic heroism: that while the young men in Hawaii demanded the right to fight for their country, many of their fathers and relatives were being sent to detention camps across the mainland.

Suspicions about the loyalty of young AJAs in Hawaii drove military planning in Hawaii. But it propelled AJAs in Hawaii, first for the ability to fight, then to become some of the most feared and brave American warriors of World War II.

"One could not command a more moral, harder-working, more conscientious group of men," Col James Hanley, senior commander of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, said of the troops under his command.

"Were they brave? Bravery is a word without specific definition," he said. "If it were to be defined as self-sacrifice for others, then they were brave beyond measure."

For others, the bravery emerged in just hanging on in the face of dramatic injustice.

"I was 8 years old - the FBI came at 9 at night. Our house was on Pauoa Road. They just said to my father "Bring your clothing and toothbrush,' " Robert Iida remembered. "They just hauled him off. No warning."

Koichi Iida was moved first to a detention camp at Sand Island, then to Montana and Wisconsin. When he came back here years later, his wife Nobu had died.

"My mother felt all the weight with the business," Robert Iida said. "She was ill for several years."

Koichi Iida had been a respected member of the Japanese community in Hawaii, running Iida's store in Chinatown, since 1900. When the military seized people of Japanese ancestry here, instead of the wholesale deportations practiced on the mainland, community and cultural leaders were singled out.

In all, about 1,441 local Japanese were torn from their families and homes and interned.

"He was a changed man," Iida said of his father's release after the war. "I remember seeing him at the pier when he came back -- at the Army pier in Kapalama.

"He had a beard. And I remember he looked sad."

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