Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence
Coming Home to Hood River
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Washington Press
Title Page, Copyright
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On the evening of November 29, 1944, residents of a small, rural community defaced a downtown memorial board that listed the names of 1,600 men and women who had served in the armed forces. By the next morning, sixteen names had been blotted out, dashed with black paint: ...
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They were reluctant to share their stories with a Sansei (third generation) who might put their words in print. But eventually they indulged me, and that made all the difference. I am indebted to each of the veterans who so willingly spoke with me, especially Uncle Mam Noji, George Akiyama, and Dad, the first three to participate. Members of ...
Oral History Methodology
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They were quiet, modest men who were more comfortable puttering in their gardens than speaking into microphones. From others, I knew they had overcome tremendous difficulties—but those stories seemed locked in their minds. Might they be willing to bare their souls and help someone from another generation examine the legacy of Nisei (second generation) veterans? ...
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It was the fall of 1945, and the GIs were finally headed home. War weary and eager to rejoin their families, they were nonetheless anxious about how their former neighbors would receive them. During the four years since they had been inducted into the U.S. Army, their hometown community had become a national spectacle, featured in newspaper and magazine ...
Part I: Early Years
1. “Growing Up in Two Worlds” : Balancing Japanese America
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We hoed berries before we went to school. When we came back from school, we hoed berries ’til dark. . . . That was our life,” explained Harry Tamura. As farm kids who were the children of immigrants, Japanese American veterans in Oregon’s Hood River valley grew up immersed in the robust work ethic of settlement farmers ...
2. “Nice People So Long as They Are in a Minority” : The Japanese American Community in Hood River
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Issei were welcomed on the West Coast when they first arrived in the late 1800s. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and later the Alaska gold rush, had drained the Pacific Northwest labor force. In 1884, after the Japanese government, plagued with economic problems, allowed its working class to seek jobs outside the country and emigrate to the United States, ...
Part II: World War II
3. “Why Didn’t You Tell Us the War Was Coming?” : Community Fallout from Pearl Harbor
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On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Akiyamas were busy pruning peach trees in their orchard on Hood River’s west side. Glancing across the rolling Cascades, “we saw all these planes go by before lunchtime,” George’s brother Sab recalled. His mother worried, “Oh, I hope the war hasn’t started.” ...
4. “Fighting for Good Uncle Sam” : Nisei Enter the Military
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When war broke, there were already 3,188 Japanese Americans serving in the United States armed forces. Another 19,000 would ultimately serve in Europe, the South Pacific, and elsewhere.1 Nisei servicemen had varied responses to their prospects in the military as well as to the suspicions, restrictions, and inequitable treatment they faced. ...
5. “The Two-Sided Sword” : Wartime Changes for Japanese American Families
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In the weeks and months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Nisei GIs’ distress about their families’ welfare overshadowed their own wartime dilemmas. George Akiyama’s father was interned in a Justice Department detention center, and his mother and four younger siblings tended the family’s thirty-five-acre farm. Likewise, Sagie Nishioka’s widowed ...
6. “Getting Shot from Ahead of Us and Behind Us” : War in the South Pacific
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Headed for the South Pacific battlefront, Mam Noji gazed across San Francisco Bay from the top deck of a cargo Liberty ship. In only a few minutes, the enormity of his future would become apparent. “When Tot [fellow Hood Riverite Taro Asai] and I were going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, he says, ‘I figure that we’ve only got a ...
7. “From Somewhere in Europe” : War in Europe
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From somewhere in Europe. So far I’m in good health. Hope you people are okay,” George Akiyama wrote to his mother at Tule Lake. “I always told her, ‘I’m okay.’ I couldn’t tell the location. I couldn’t tell her what the next battle was or anything. And just signed, ‘From somewhere in Europe.’” ...
8. “I’ve Got a Lot of Fighting to Do Right Here” : Charged with Willful Disobedience
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Fred Sumoge anxiously shined his shoes and donned his khaki, Class A dress uniform. Word had drifted out that President Roosevelt was going to visit the army camp where Sumoge was stationed on that Easter Sunday in 1943. “Hey, gonna see the president!” he chortled as he adjusted the folds of his hat. Sumoge’s optimism, however, was short-lived. ...
9. “Discard My Uniform for Good” : The End of the War
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Well , that was good news! We know we’re gonna be able to come home now.” George Akiyama was at the Allied supply base in Leghorn, Italy, when he read about Germany’s surrender. The bold headline plastered across three-fourths of the newspaper’s front page flashed the welcome words: “peace at last .” ...
Part III: After the War
10. “No Japes Wanted in Hood River” : The Hood River Situation
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What a lowdown thing to have done,” exclaimed Mam Noji. The action by citizens in his hometown struck a visceral blow at Noji’s service to his country and discredited his parents’ forty years of sacrifice in their adopted homeland. What’s more, news headlines across the country were describing his community in venomous ...
11. “Ninety Percent Are Against the Japs!”: Veterans and Their Families Return
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It took some bravado to return,” observed Mam Noji in early 1945. Members of his family were among the first to return to their beleaguered valley after the government finally permitted Nikkei back on the West Coast in December. By January, however, only one out of six Nikkei had left the ten government camps,1 and rumors of intimidating ...
12. “You Could Feel It” : Resettling in the Community and Elsewhere
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O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” Two hundred voices swelled to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” when Mid-Columbia Japanese Americans welcomed their sons home from war late in December 1946. Though their families’ freedoms had not remained intact, as the national anthem pronounced, through their wartime service, Nikkei ...
13. “Time Is a Good Healer” : Rebuilding
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Several months after the war’s end, a young upper-valley Nisei’s good intentions came to a sputtering halt. Eager to see former white classmates, the younger brother of Mam Noji hosted a reunion at his parents’ home. To his chagrin, only one couple arrived, and there was no word—not even a phone call—from the others. “The experience ...
14. “Guilty of Courage” : Discipline Barrack Boys’ Appeals
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Branded with dishonorable discharges, Kenjiro Hayakawa and Fred Sumoge also faced a lifetime of obstacles. Both had been cell-bound in Fort Leavenworth’s disciplinary barracks for nineteen months, from October 1944 until May 1946. The stigma of military incarceration haunted them over the next thirty-seven years as they fervently ...
Part IV: Today
15. “Opening the Closets of History” : The Community Today
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My dad used to say you could shoot a cannonball down the main drag and never hit anybody,” recalled Hood River native Howard Rice. “Now you have to be careful not to hit a ‘boardhead,’” he commented, referring to the influx of windsurfers, kiteboarders, and snowboarders. For sure, this tiny farm community in the Cascade foothills ...
16. No “Ordinary Soldiers” : The Patriot Test
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It was almost as if serving their country tested their courage, their resolve, even their Americanism. Pacific war hero Frank Hachiya had written a former teacher, “Although I hate war more than anyone can, I think it is a very good place to test oneself—one is either a man or a mouse—as the saying goes. If I come out of the war, I shall know for sure.” ...
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On Memorial Day, May 31, 2011, nearly five hundred gathered at Hood River’s Idlewilde Cemetery to remember, to put the past behind them, and to move on. The headline in the Hood River News called the event “an acknowledgement of wrongs.” Veteran Shig Imai viewed it simply as “a healing moment.”1 ...
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Publication Year: 2012