Feature Stories

Let's Celebrate our Diversity

I am an American for Kauai Stories & Write PathI have had the honor of interviewing and writing about nearly one dozen Japanese American World War II veterans who were born and raised in Hawaii, most of them on the island of Kauai. 

When Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan 75 years ago, their lives changed in ways most of us cannot even imagine.

Even though they, and many of their parents, were legal American citizens (Hawaii was then a territory of the United States), they and their families were treated as enemies to our country. Some were jailed on false pretenses; others were locked up in internment camps for the duration of the war. All were subject to discrimination, even by people who had once been their friends.

This echoed activities on the U.S. mainland, where 120,000 Japanese Americans were confined in internment camps across the country, surrounded by barbed wire, with perimeters patrolled by armed guards. All were required to leave behind everything they owned: homes, businesses and any personal belongings beyond what they could carry in one or two suitcases. Most were imprisoned for three years.

Amazingly, rather than becoming consumed with anger, the majority of Japanese Americans responded then — and still do today — with a degree of love and patriotism for this country that is almost unfathomable to most of us, given the hardships they endured.

After first being rejected for U.S. military service and classified as “enemy aliens,” these men responded by the thousands, when the call eventually came from the U.S. government for Americans of Japanese ancestry to join the Army. More than 10,000 men initially enlisted, many of them straight out of internment camps, where their families were still locked up. Thousands more joined soon after.

Together, the Japanese Americans formed the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, commonly known as the 100th/442nd. They fought valiantly, and with their motto of “Go For Broke,” they became the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history at that time.

Japanese Americans also volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), translating captured Japanese documents for the U.S. government, a service widely credited for shortening the war by two years, saving billions of dollars and at least one million American lives.

The men of the 100th/442nd earned more than 18,000 individual decorations for bravery including 9,500 Purple Hearts, awarded for injuries incurred during wartime, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 21 Medals of Honor and 8 Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations.

Why were these men willing to go to war for the country that had treated them so badly? Because they loved this country.

The few members of the 100th/442nd who still remain alive, can sometimes be seen sitting together at memorial services for their contemporaries, all wearing their shirts embroidered with their motto, “Go For Broke,” made famous after the war, when their heroism and bravery became known.

Kauai resident Norman Hashisaka, who was a member of the Military Intelligence Service, once showed me a quote, published by the MIS Historical Committee in Honolulu, that summed up all Japanese Americans’ participation in World War II:

“Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry. Americanism is a matter of mind and heart.”

Let’s remember that the beauty — and strength — of the United States is the wide range of people and cultures that make up this melting pot. Let’s celebrate our diversity, and the gifts we each bring to this country.

 

Caption for photo above:

The owner of this store in Oakland, Calif., a person of Japanese descent and a graduate of the University of California, placed the “I AM AN AMERICAN” sign across his window the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Photographer: Dorothea Lange. Courtesy National Archives.

 

 

 

Comments

Joseph
December 08, 2016 @09:54 am
I was reading some of your interesting stories about Pearl Harbor. Here is one that most people have never heard. My wife Loretta and I own three radio stations in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Our AM station KFUN performed its first broadcast on Christmas Day 1941, eighteen days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This Christmas Day KFUN celebrates 75 years of broadcasting and it is the 6th oldest station in the state of New Mexico. The station founders were Ernie and Dorothy Thwaites, and were not Spanish. When World War II started, the war and censorship departments sent inspectors around the country ordering radio stations NOT to broadcast war news in a foreign language. They were concerned the enemy could tune in and get war secrets. There were many stations with employees that were of foreign background and spoke in their foreign language. In those days the war department considered Spanish as a foreign language, which it was not in New Mexico. Long story short, Ernie Thwaites refused to obey the war law and refused to stop broadcasting programs in Spanish. War & censorship officials did not know how to deal with Mr. Thwaites not being able to get him to obey the war law. After trying many tactics to get him to comply, officials were concerned that other radio stations would join Thwaites in refusing to obey the war law so they threatened him with a $10,000 fine, 10 years in prison, asking the FCC to take his broadcast license away, taking all his and his wife's personal belongings, taking the station, and all property, (25 acres) away if he didn't comply. Mr. Thwaites informed his listeners, the majority being Spanish, but also Anglos, of what the War & Censorship department was trying to force him to do, so the departments were flooded with letters of protest from the entire state. Eventually he reached an agreement and stopped broadcasting for a few short months and eventually went back to broadcasting Spanish war news but refused to follow the government scripts provided. Government officials didn't like this either. Eventually Mr. Thwaites died in a plane crash in September of 1963. By this time the war was long over. There is a wonderful book about this story written by Dr. Michael S. Sweeney, “Secrets of Victory” available on Amazon.
Frank Schuiuerer
December 08, 2016 @09:47 am
December 7th is a day of remembrance of the attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor. It is not a day to celebrate our diversity. It was not a proud moment in the history of the United States when the Japanese were evacuated from the western states, not nationwide, and placed in internment camps. Rather, it was a sad reaction to the fear of Japanese Americans and Japanese Nationals living in the United States. Unfortunately it was a fairly easy thing to accomplish based on names and appearance. I am also fairly sure that if German people were as easy to identify as the Japanese were, they too would have been placed in internment camps. Everybody has, or should have, 20/20 hindsight. And it’s easy to look back 75 years and based on what we know now, make judgements. We need to look at what happened and in the context of the time it happened and the reasoning used then, understand why. Before judgement is passed on my comment, I would like to say that I am of German and Japanese heritage. I grew up on the east coast in the 50’s and 60’s and was faced with my share of hostility. It happened. It cannot be changed. We can only move forward.
Heather
December 07, 2016 @08:39 am
Mahalo Pam for collecting, editing, and sharing these amazing stories.
Ray Smith
December 06, 2016 @10:45 am
Pam,I and my family were in Koloa on Dec 7 and out and about in the morning about 8 AM. My sister, Anne, then 7, has always claimed she saw one of the Japanese planes flying over the ocean past Poipu. I've never heard another local make such a claim and discounted her sighting. Some years ago two drivers out on the oceanfront Kekaha road claimed they were overflown which seemed more creditable. Because the enemy flights were far to the north of Kauai I've doubted such sightings and neither the Garden Island editions after Dec. 7 or other published reports verified Kauai sightings. I'd like to talk to Ike. Can you help?

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