Natick observes Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May 21, 2013
NATICK, Mass. (May 22, 2013) -- Soldiers and civilians gathered at the Natick Soldier Systems Center to observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month May 15.
This year's guest speaker was Dr. Susumu Ito, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit comprised almost entirely of second-generation Japanese Americans. Although most of the commissioned officers in the 442nd were Caucasians, and Japanese American officers were very rare during World War II, Ito was a second lieutenant in the unit.
Ito was born in 1919 in Stockton, Calif., to sharecropper parents. He was drafted into the Army in 1940, less than two years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In October 1944 Ito was attached to I Company during the battle for the "lost battalion" of the 36th Division in Eastern France. I Company had the highest casualties and lost 132 out of 143 riflemen during the short battle.
Just prior to the "lost battalion" rescue mission, Ito had received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant with the 442nd, the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in American military history.
During the NSSC program, Ito shared his experiences as a Japanese American in the Army.
"One thing that I never really experienced was any prejudice against my ethnic background," he said. "I was totally accepted in my field, so in that respect, I didn't feel any discrimination whatsoever."
Ito said he felt that at times he was discriminated for, but never discriminated against. Even after his time in the Army, Ito said he believed that he had the latitude to explore any field he desired.
After the war, Ito used the Montgomery G.I. Bill to receive a Ph. D. in cell biology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
"Not only socially, but my chairman would let me work on projects (about) anything I wanted to do, and any way I wanted to do it," Ito said. "He never told me, 'You must work in this area or restrict (yourself) to a certain field.'"
Ito also offered advice for those seeking a better understanding of how to build leadership.
"Try to pick a field that you really have your heart into and can exert all your energy and efforts," he said. "Geography doesn't matter; my assessment is that you can be unhappy anywhere, but the opposite is also true."