They changed history,By Gregg K. Kakesako
these nisei soldiers. They defeated
not only the enemy, but racism as well.
They gather here this weekend,
3,000 strong, to revel again
in their exploits
Three years ago, Lt. Gen. Allen Ono pointed to the three stars on his shoulder noting he was the beneficiary of the sacrifices and courage of the Japanese-American soldiers of World War II.
In an emotional reunion at Camp Shelby Army training camp in southern Mississippi, Ono, who earned his Army commission in 1955 through the University of Hawaii ROTC program, told members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, and their families that the nisei soldiers paved the way.
Rodney Yamashiro, somewhere in France, 1944.
At top, Nisei vet Joe Marumatsu as he
appeared in World War II.
"You changed history. No longer do we question whether a Japanese American should be a general," he said. "No longer do we wonder whether an individual should command because of the shape of one's eyes," said Ono, then the military's highest-ranking Asian American.
As U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a member of the 442nd who lost his arm fighting the Germans, noted several years ago, "We were fighting for our country and against racism that prevailed during those times."
It was their way, Inouye said, of countering the hysteria: Although the men who bombed Pearl Harbor looked like them, they had little else in common. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast were ordered to leave their homes and relocate to barbed-wire enclosed camps following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
With their slogan "Go for Broke," the nisei warriors of the 442nd/100th fought in eight major World War II European campaigns. Other Japanese-American soldiers received less recognition for their equally important work as linguists, translators and construction workers in other units in the Pacific theater.
In the past these nisei soldiers have held separate unit reunions. Beginning today, 3,000 of them will be reunited. For the first time, the nisei foot soldiers, artillerymen, linguists and construction engineers will meet under one roof at the Hawai'i Convention Center. They will again revel in their exploits, but with so many of them in their twilight years, it could be for the last time.
Rodney Yamashiro, 76, already had a 6-month-old son when he joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in February 1943, and he didn't know his wife was pregnant with the couple's second child.
When he arrived at Camp Shelby, "I got a letter from my wife telling me she was pregnant. . . . But then I never saw my daughter until she was 3 years old."
Yamashiro's brother, Shigeru also volunteered for the 442nd RCT.
"Miraculously, both of us came out of the war unscathed. I had my helmet blown off my head, but I came out unscathed. I don't know, maybe it was because I carried a package of Hawaiian salt with me. My mother-in-law gave it to me because she loved me, and maybe it took care of me."
Yamashiro, a member of the regiment's 232nd Combat Engineer Company, said although many colleagues volunteered to prove their loyalty, "things like that didn't bother me."
"Why should we worry about loyalty?" said Yamashiro, who served in the 442nd throughout the unit's history. "We were born here, and I believe we had the same rights as everyone else."
Attorney Harold Yokoyama's only brush with "combat" was a Japanese South Pacific village complex, which as a carpenter, he helped rebuild almost daily in the 1,399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
"I was a member of a platoon that was stationed at Kahana Bay," said Yokoyama, 76, who was drafted in July 1944, "and the only combat I saw was rebuilding this jungle warfare training center that was located on two acres in Punaluu, way in the valley."
"It was built to familiarize the soldiers with the type of structures the Japanese soldiers lived in. We would build it, the soldiers would come and raze it using live rounds, and then we would go back again the next day and rebuild it. I got so disgusted in doing the same job that I volunteered to be a cook."
On April 1, 1946, the Kahana Bay campsite was hit by a massive tidal wave.
"As mess sergeant I had to get up early every morning to start breakfast," Yokoyama said. "The barracks was located across the street from the beach, but the latrines were located near the river near the beach. When I got up I saw two guys hanging from the trees. There were trees along the road, which probably helped in keeping the water away from the main camp."
For the more than 1,000 soldiers who served in the battalion, Yokoyama said, life was "probably uneventful" as the soldiers maintained military facilities throughout the territory.
Joe Muramatsu, 78, was working as a mail clerk at Love's Bakery in Kapahulu when he was drafted on Nov. 15, 1941.
Stationed at Schofield Barracks during the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack, Muramatsu spent the next few days stringing barbed wire along Kailua Beach. That was until his rifle and bayonet were taken away because he was Japanese, and he was segregated from the 298th Regiment because of "a Japanese surname."
A member of the 100th Battalion, Muramatsu joined 1,300 other nisei soldiers who boarded the cargo ship USS Maui, which landed in Oakland in 1942. From there they were taken by rail to Camp McCoy.
"The first thing I saw in Wisconsin were barbed-wire cages, and I wondered where I was," said Muramatsu, referring to the internment camp that would serve as their quarters until the expansion of Camp McCoy was completed.
After further infantry training at Camp Shelby, Muramatsu was selected to attend Japanese language school at Camp Savage, Minn., in June 1943. A year later he was sent to Vint Hill Farm Station, an Army post 30 miles west of Washington, D.C., as a member of the Military Intelligence Service.
For the next year, Muramatsu would spend his time as a nisei linguist translating intercepted Japanese messages.
"Most of the messages were routine," said Muramatsu, serving his third term as Club 100 president. "Many of them dealt with supply requests."
But he did receive and translate Japan's unconditional surrender, broadcast from its headquarters in Tokyo to its troops in the field.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Kenzo Kanemoto, called to duty at the first-aid station at Lunalilo Elementary School in Moiliili, dutifully checked in along with fellow McKinley High student, Daniel K. Inouye.
"There were a lot of fires in the area," said Kanemoto, 75. "Many were started by fallen American anti-craft shells. That might be the first time any of us, including Dan Inouye, had seen our first corpse."
In September 1944, Kanemoto was drafted and sent to Japanese language training at Fort Snelling, Minn. A year later, he was in the Philippines as a Military Intelligence Service member, investigating charges of Japanese atrocities.
By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Bumpei Akaji, a 442nd veteran, designed this monument
in Waikiki to honor Japanese Americans in World War II.
A monument honoring Japanese-American military contributions in World War II will be dedicated tomorrow at Fort DeRussy.
The Brothers in Valor Memorial at Saratoga Road and Kalakaua Avenue recognizes contributions of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service and the 1,399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
The central black-marble sculpture was created by Honolulu artist Bumpei Akaji, a 442nd veteran. It also includes time capsules with scrolls listing the names of the soldiers who were killed in action as well as members of the four units and donors.
The monument was initiated by the late University of Hawaii professor Judy Weightman after she interviewed nisei soldiers who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. More than $305,000 city funds, requested by City Councilman Andy Mirikitani, were appropriated for the monument with another $200,000 raised by AJA veterans.
Honoring nisei veterans
8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: 1998 AJA Veterans National Convention seminar and workshops. Hawai'i Convention Center.
2 and 7 p.m.: "Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire" play. Neal Blaisdell Center.
7:30 p.m.: Sons & Daughters: "Blast from the Past" party. Kapiolani Community College Ohia Cafeteria.
9 a.m.: Dedication of "Brothers in Valor" statue. Fort DeRussy.
10:30 a.m.: Luncheon banquet. Hawai'i Convention Center. Keynote speaker: Gen. Eric Shinseki, commander of Allied Land Forces Central Europe and commanding general U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army in Germany.
Noon: "Witness: Our Brothers' Keepers" exhibit. University of Hawaii Commons Gallery.
7 p.m.: "Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire" play. Neal Blaisdell Center.
9 a.m.: Memorial service. National Cemetery of the Pacific.
Noon: "Witness: Our Brothers' Keepers" exhibit. University of Hawaii Commons Gallery.