Editor's note: Japanese-American veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team will receive Bronze Stars Nov. 1 and Congressional Gold Medals Nov. 2 for their contributions during World War II. Three of these veterans tell their story:
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 28, 2011) -- On Dec. 7, 1941, 5,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) had been drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.
With Executive Order 9066 in hand, though, Military Governor Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt decided to discharge all those Japanese Americans on the west coast and send them home. He was also responsible for forcing more than 115,000 persons of Japanese ancestry into relocation camps.
"The legacy (of what occurred over the following years of World War II) is very important in terms of present day," said Terry Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association since 2004.
Shima joined the 442nd Infantry Regiment in 1945 in Italy, where he was assigned to public relations and when the unit returned in July 1946, he continued to handle public relations for the veterans association in New York, in Washington, D.C., and in Honolulu. Following two years in the Army, he worked for the Foreign Service for 30 years.
"In Hawaii, on the other hand, there were 1,432 Japanese Americans in the Hawaii Territory National Guard. And Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, the military governor, faced more immediate danger or threat of a land attack by Japan.
"What he did, very smartly, was to send the 1,142 Nisei to Wisconsin, to get them out of the way," Shima said.
Subsequently, they were sent to the Italian front, as the 100th Infantry Battalion.
"Army senior leaders then decided to form a larger unit because a battalion-size (unit) did not achieve, I believe, their objective. They wanted a brigade-size, so they formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was a volunteer unit," Shima said.
About 1,500 volunteered from the internment camps and 2,500 volunteered from Hawaii. They trained in Camp Shelby, Miss., and were shipped to Italy, where the 442nd and the 100th merged.
The 442nd was Europe, he said, and the Military Intelligence Service was in the Pacific. The MIS performed as important a job, relatively speaking, as the 442nd.
"On top of all of this would be the legacy," Shima said. "What does this all mean to the Japanese Americans of the present day? The story is unbelievable. As General George C. Marshall (chief of Staff of the Army, secretary of State and the third Secretary of Defense) said "all of the European commanders had asked for the 442nd to be on their team," indicating the quality of combat strength that the Japanese Americans provided."
On the Pacific side, 60 Japanese Americans were already in training with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service, but when war broke out and many of their families were incarcerated, not one of them decided to quit.
During World War II, 6,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) served in the Military Intelligence Service, performing secret intelligence work against the Japanese military. Their work dispelled any doubt that as Americans the Nisei were willing to fight an enemy with whom they shared a similar ancestral background.
"It was in November when the recruiters from MIS came (to Gila River, Ariz, Internment Camp) and they tested my language. I guess I passed because they asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the Army and I said I sure would but I should get my parents' approval. I ran back and twisted their arm and got their approval," said Ichikawa, who's now 92 years old.
Ichikawa had recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in accounting when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
"I trained as an accountant, but in California nobody was hiring a Japanese-American accountant, so I decided to be a fruit farmer with my father. He had years and years of experience, so we found a very good lease, but this farm did not have any equipment, so we had to borrow money and invest in a tractor and truck, spray wagon, and we started pruning the trees," he said.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, his parents, who were Japanese citizens, assumed they would be interned.
"I didn't even give it a thought because I was an American. Why should I be interned? So I went merrily on my way and then in the following year around April or May, I learned that I would have to go too, so I had to get rid of the farm.
"I was mad . I was very disappointed, it hurt me quite a bit because here I was a college graduate, I was a loyal American, I had never been to Japan, and for them to treat me like an enemy-alien was devastating," Ichikawa said.
He considers his generation to be the greatest generation of Japanese Americans.
"We were initially labeled enemy-aliens and many of us volunteered to fight for the U.S. Army and we offered our lives to prove we are loyal American citizens," he said.
During World War II, he said, about 800 Japanese Americans gave their lives to prove they were loyal Americans.
"We have turned whatever discrimination people had against us, by our service in the Army, so at the end of World War II, there was no more discrimination. Today, our kids have no problem finding any job they want. Like my son, Bryan, he's a pretty high official in his company. Those things did not happen in my generation, so it was our service that erased discrimination for not only us, but all Asian Americans," he said.
Ichikawa was discharged in 1947 as a second lieutenant with the infantry, but was recalled during the Korean War.
"When the Korean War started, they were recalling all inactive infantry officers, so my name was in there, but I told them I'm not an infantry officer, I'm an intelligence officer. I know nothing about infantry. They said to do as the Army ordered."
Ichikawa did as the Army ordered, but said he still felt discriminated against.
While serving, though, he worked with some members of the CIA and was asked to join.
"When I joined the CIA, they treated me like anybody else. Early in the game they gave me jobs that were supervisory. I felt very comfortable with their organization, so I was able to get good promotions," he said, and continued to serve in a variety of assignments up through Vietnam.
"In 1975 when Vietnam fell, and I was evacuated from the embassy rooftop, I went and got on an aircraft carrier and saw the tremendous 7th Fleet in the Pacific," he recalled. "We lost about 50,000 Americans who died for Vietnam and for the United States to give up when we had that huge Navy just sitting outside of Vietnam while communists were coming down from the north, and for us to do nothing ... "
"The Marines were lined up, ready to shoot the enemy, but they were never given the go-ahead to do so," he said. "They were itching to do something. They saw the enemy out in the open, streaming toward Saigon and we just didn't do anything."
As a result, he said, the Vietnamese suffered a lot, some couldn't evacuate, and many stayed behind and spent years in jail.
"I was so disgusted that I came back and found out I could retire without losing anything, so I did. I was mad at the U.S. government at that time," he said. "But I'm retired now, there's no reason to me mad."
MITSUO TED HAMASU
On Dec. 10, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Mitsuo Hamasu received his draft notice.
"I was working as a carpenter's helper with my Uncle George Tashiro on the Big Island of Hawaii at the time."
His uncle laughed, saying, "You're only five feet tall. You're too short to become a G.I."
He went to Honokaa Hospital for his physical and passed with flying colors.
"Doctor Okada pronounced me in A-1 shape, and I was in the Army. My identification number was 30100598. My friends and neighbors congratulated me for being among the first to be a Soldier. I congratulated my friends who had also joined."
The Army shipped them to Schofield Barracks on Oahu for basic training. Upon completion, the recruits were shipped back to Kamuela on the Big Island as part of the 299th Hawaiian Infantry Regiment. Hamasu became a rifleman in Company F of the Hawaii National Guard. They trained on the Big Island and carried out guard duty at the Hilo Airport.
"It was morning on Dec. 7, 1941," he said. "I was on guard duty at the airport. We received a phone call saying that Pearl Harbor was attacked, bombed by Japanese planes. At first, I did not believe it. Another phone call confirmed the fact."
"Mainland troops replaced us as guards at the airport three months later. Our Company deployed to a defensive position along the Hilo coast. We erected a gun opposition on South Point in case the enemy tried another attack," he said.
In April 1942, Company F received new orders. The riflemen of Japanese ancestry were to turn in all arms and ammunition, and assemble in the Company area. The announcement came down that they would be shipped to an unknown destination and without being allowed to tell anyone, not even family.
"Quietly, about a month later, our segregated group of Nisei Soldiers embarked on a ship from Hilo to Honolulu and Schofield Barracks, then again in June from Honolulu to Oakland. We did not know it at the time, but we were headed to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. We were 1,432 men, A,B,C,D,E & F companies of infantrymen, one battalion and two extra companies strong. They named our outfit the "100th Infantry Battalion," or "One Puka Puka" in Hawaiian," he said.
At Camp McCoy, they lived in tents until it became cool. As winter approached, they were moved to barracks with heated quarters, running water and hot showers. When the first big snow fell, "we all ran out barefooted, making our first snow balls and throwing them at each other," he said.
"In February 1943, we were moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. We thought the Army was moving us to be in a warmer climate. Instead, we were being tested in the Louisiana Maneuvers. The maneuvers lasted for months. When we returned to Camp Shelby, we met our younger brothers of the 442nd," Hamasu said.
TERRY SHIMA ON 442nd LEGACY
"The Japanese Americans fought against people of their own racial ancestry with everything that they had. They were accused by Japanese officers who were prisoners, as traitors of Japan," Shima said.
On the July 15, 1946, President Harry Truman reviewed the 442nd and confirmed their loyalty.
"You fought the enemy abroad and you fought prejudice at home and you won," he said.
"That, to me, is a signal that the highest authority of the land has confirmed their loyalty because the reason that the Nisei fought with such intensity was for only one reason, and that was to prove their loyalty, because they were accused of being saboteurs and collaborators of the enemy," Shima said.
The highest rank of a Japanese American during World War II, he said, was a major and there were only four.
"But in the Vietnam War, you would find them in every branch of service in the most sensitive war-planning positions, in the cockpits of fighters and bombers as pilots and navigators. During World War II, we had five Nisei serving as gunners in bombers. They were proud of their service," he said.
In Vietnam, he said, 35 served in the cockpits of fighters and bombers as pilots and navigators, and five became guests at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison camp.
After Vietnam, he said, 43 Japanese Americans would be promoted to generals and admirals, while another 60 Asian-Pacific Americans would reach flag rank. All this is a result of what the Tuskegee Airmen and the 442nd helped produce, he said.
"On the civilian side, there would be equally impressive reforms," he said. "One was repeal of discriminatory laws, especially along the west coast states. And in 1952 alien Japanese could apply for U.S. citizenship ... a great accomplishment."
In August of 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was passed and President Ronald Reagan offered the nation's formal apology for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
"And of course, more recently, the U.S. Senate selected from amongst their group a Japanese American to serve as president pro tempore of the United States Senate," Shima said, adding that's a position that puts him, constitutionally, third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
"Only 70 years ago, this same Japanese American (Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii) was given draft classification 4-C, which stood for enemy alien, unfit for military duty. So, what I'm saying is that we have come a long way," Shima said.
"This is an American story and it speaks to the greatness of this nation."
SLIDESHOW: World War II Nisei veterans receive medals, recognition
Army.mil: Asian and Pacific Islander Soldiers in the U.S. Army