Wartime archive


POSTED: Monday, July 06, 2009

Like many college-educated men of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii before World War II, Mitsuyoshi Fukuda was unable to find any professional job except teaching at a public school.

But the war propelled him toward becoming a lieutenant in the Japanese-American 100th Battalion fighting in Europe. He rose to the rank of major, and returned home to break racial barriers as the first Japanese-American executive in a major Hawaii firm.

His wartime papers, along with memorabilia from other Japanese-American soldiers, are being donated to archives that will be housed in a $1.4 million educational building being built at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Central Maui.

Center officials who broke ground for the building June 29 plan to have the archives' grand opening in about 10 months.

Major funding for the project was provided through grants of $750,000 from the state, $300,000 from the county and the rest from private foundations, corporations and individuals.

In addition to the archive, the building will also include classroom and office space on the lower floor, and an open pavilion on the upper floor.

The temperature- and humidity-controlled archive is expected to preserve recorded interviews with veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, along with documents, wartime photos and letters home from the battlefront.

The center already has a building that provides preschool and adult day-care services.

Fukuda's son David said developing the archives was a wonderful opportunity to work toward the preservation of the history of members of his father's generation and their contributions.

“;The opportunities of being a part of the government, being part of business ... buying property—all these things are their legacy,”; he said. “;I'm afraid the story gets lost if we don't have these things preserved.”;

Mitsuyoshi, son of a sugar plantation carpenter, graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1938, taught at Konawaena Junior and High School on the Big Island and was a member of the Territorial Guard before the war.

When he returned home after war, he worked for Castle & Cooke and eventually became a vice president—the highest ranking of any Japanese-American at that time in Hawaii.

Center Executive Director Barbara Watanabe said the legacy of the Japanese-American veterans of World War II is as much a story of civil rights as it is of bravery on the field of battle.

“;They accomplished all of that knowing that fellow Japanese-Americans were being held in internment camps and that laws existed on the books preventing first-generation Asian-Americans, like their parents, from owning land in this country,”; she said. “;Our goal is to work with local schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club and other youth organizations to share the story of these humble men who wrote an extraordinary chapter in our country's history.”;