STAR-BULLETIN / MARCH 2005
The 62nd anniversary reunion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team holds a memorial service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Among those attending were, from left, Yokichi Hokama, Tsutomu Fujimoto, and Tsukasa Ishii of the 442nd, who proudly wore their "442ND R.C.T. 'Go For Broke'" caps.
Drive pushes for 442nd stamp
Organizers lobby the U.S. postmaster on behalf of WW II nisei
Organizers seeking recognition for the more than 50,000 Japanese-American soldiers who fought in Europe and the Pacific have gathered more than 7,000 letters and petition signatures in a campaign to get a commemorative U.S. postage stamp.
However, Wayne Osako, a Southern California history teacher, says more are needed to convince the U.S. Post Office's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, which recommends to the U.S. Postmaster John Potter what subjects are honored.
"What we are trying to do is create a sense of urgency," said Osako during a phone interview from his Orange County, Calif., home, "because of the ages of these veterans."
Osako said that last month he received a letter from Terrance McCaffrey, who heads the 16-member committee, saying it will review the proposal to honor the nisei, or Japanese-American soldiers.
McCaffrey said the subjects of the commemorative stamps that will be issued next year and in 2009 have already been selected.
Roy Betts, a Postal Service spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the committee meets four times a year in various locations throughout the mainland and spends two days reviewing proposals. The meetings are not open to the public. No personal presentations are allowed
"The committee reviews as many as 1,000 suggestions," Betts said, "and then pares them down to 25 subjects which are sent to the postmaster general."
Betts said that Postmaster General Potter then announces his selections in August.
The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, said on its Web site that it receives as many as 50,000 inquiries annually. These proposals should be submitted at least three years in advance of the proposed date of issue.
It follows 12 criteria in selecting subjects that primarily feature Americans or American-related subject. Aside from honoring a living person, these topics can include anything promoting commercial products, religious institutions, cities, towns, political and service organizations.
Osako said he became involved in the project 18 months ago while working for the Go For Broke Foundation in Los Angeles.
There he met widows of three veterans -- Aiko King, Chiz Ohira and Fusa Takahashi -- whose husbands had served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. Ohira asked Osako to help them in their campaign
"They were very frustrated in their efforts to get a stamp honoring the nisei soldiers," Osako said.
In a telephone interview from her home in Gardena, Calif., Ohira, 82, said she started this campaign more than two years ago because she felt that soldiers like her husband, Ted, who was born on Kauai, belonged to "a unique organization." She said that many of the soldiers were like members of her family who had been sent to internment camps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941. They volunteered to serve in the 442nd RCT to fight in Italy and France or serve as interpreters in the Pacific.
"Now they are getting old and I wanted something done to recognize their valor and achievements before it is too late," said Ohira, noting that her husband, who was a member of the 442nd's H Company, died in February.
In jest, she added: "I think if you can get Donald Duck on a stamp, we should be able to get the 442nd."
Ron Oba, former president of the 442nd Veterans Club, said there are now only 10 veterans from his Fox Company who are still active. "During the war, replacements were sent to my company on three occasions which meant that there were as many as 750 soldiers who served in my company," Oba said.
Oba said because there is no organized drive in the islands he plans to talk with this year's president, Bill Thompson, to get the veteran's group more involved in the petition effort.
Oba said he joined the petition drive after reading about it in the Japanese American Veterans Association newsletter and sent a petition with the signatures of the 10 members of his company.
Osako said after reviewing the stamps the Postal Service he discovered that only four featured Asian Americans or Americans of Pacific Islander descent.
He said that in a 1987 United Way stamp there was a face of an Asian child in a group of people. The "Women in the Military" stamp in 1997 showed a symbolic Asian female in the group. Duke Kahanamoku was featured in 2002 as the father of modern surfing and sculptor Isamu Noguchi was honored in 2004.
"Only one Asian Pacific American cultural subject has been shown," Osako said, "the series of Chinese New Year stamps that honor a traditional Chinese holiday." That series features the drawings of Honolulu graphic artist Clarence Lee.
"The Postal Service has issued stamps honoring other minority veterans groups," Osako added, referring to Hispanic Americans recognized in 1984 and black Buffalo Soldiers in 1994.
Japanese-American soldiers, especially those who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, have been singled out by every president since Harry Truman for their service and sacrifices, Osako added.
"Among more than 14,000 awards," he added, "the Japanese-American soldiers of World War II earned 21 Medals of Honor, 9 Presidential Unit citations, and more than 9,000 Purple Hearts."
Osako said that Hawaii state Rep. John Mizuno will introduce a resolution next year supporting the commemorative stamp campaign. Mizuno, whose uncle Saguru Takahashi served in the 100th Battalion, said he has asked Sen. Les Ihara Jr. to introduce a similar resolution in the state Senate.