San Diego VeteransExhibit
Compelling exhibit on Japanese-Americans in the military at Veterans Memorial Museum
February 10, 2010
San Diego Sightseeing Examiner by Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—Probably no event has seared into the consciousness of the Japanese-American community more painfully than their forced relocation from their homes on the West Coast of the United States to internment camps in the interior of the country during World War II.
This is the central portion of an exhibit at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Balboa Park that compellingly examines the 20th century history of Japanese American soldiers from San Diego.
Photo: Veterans Memorial Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego.
The exhibit prepared by the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego will be on view through the end of May 2010.
A few months after Japan’s military forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, notices were posted on telephone poles and on walls in San Diego neighborhoods where Japanese Americans were known to live. Families were given one week to pack their belongings and prepare for relocation to the interior. Initially most families from San Diego were taken to the Santa Anita Race Track, where horse stalls served as their temporary homes until an internment camp at Poston, Arizona, could be readied.
Poston was one of ten major internment camps built by the United States government. “From August 1942 until Poston closed in late 1945, the families attempted to live normal lives under circumstances that were anything but normal,” the narrative said.
San Diegan Tetsuzo Hirasaki had been a close friend of the city’s chief librarian Clara Breed. Using a sharpened bed spring, he carved for her from mesquite wood a nameplate that she proudly displayed on her desk at the San Diego Public Library. Instead of being sent to Poston with the rest of his family, Hirasaki’s father, Chiyomatsu, had been sent to camps in North Dakota and New Mexico. The family asked Breed, who wrote a column, to do what she could to help reunite them.
At first, the military was not interested in enlisting Japanese Americans, considering them too great a security risk. Although Mas Tsuida was a seafaring fisherman, the Navy had no desire for his skills. Eventually, however, the U.S. Army created a segregated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for Japanese Americans willing to fight in the European theatre against Nazi Germany.
After joining, Tsuida was sent to Fort Reilly, Kansas for his basic training. One day he and all the other Japanese-American soldiers were “herded into a single barracks surrounded by military police with machine guns at the ready,” the exhibit related. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt was visiting the base and the MPs were protecting him from those questionable U.S. soldiers.” Afterwards, Tsuida was sent to Naples, Italy, and would fight in Italy and France. He was injured in the October 1944 battle in which the 442nd was sent into the Vosges Mountains to rescue the “Lost Battalion,” which had been surrounded by the Germans. The 442nd was successful, but not without sustaining heavy casualties. At war’s end, Tsuida returned to his life as a fisherman.
Other Japanese-American soldiers had their basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where those from the mainland United States found themselves thrown in with Japanese from Hawaii, with whom a fierce rivalry initially developed. However, as an exhibit photograph of San Diegan Sam Yamaguchi wearing Hawaiian garb illustrates, the two groups were molded in a single unit.
Among San Diegans fighting in World War II were Yasuichi ‘Jimmy’ Kimura, who used to drive a truck on local vegetable farms before his family was relocated to the internment camp. In the Army, he drove trucks and performed maintenance on them in both the European and North African campaigns. He was awarded a purple heart with an oak leaf cluster for wounds sustained during the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.”
After the war, the services of Japanese-Americans were called upon as interpreters and in other capacities in the occupation of Japan and of Okinawa. San Diegan Francis Tanaka, who later would become a physician with Scripps Mercy Hospital, served as a medical interpreter on Okinawa in 1945 and 1946. Shizue Suwa, a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy nurse corps, was stationed in occupied Japan.
When the internment camps closed in late 1945, Japanese-Americans moved back to San Diego. Those whose family members had served in the military were eligible for veterans’ family housing.
Alan Hayashi, who was born in the Poston, Arizona camp, was drafted into the Army in 1969 after graduation from San Diego State University. He “received the bronze star for actions to cut the supply chain known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail near Da Nang, as well as many other commendations from the United States and the Republic of Vietnam.” He commented that he was “raised with the value of loyalty to my country.”
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