JA Marine fought for country
Japanese American Marine fought for country after two-year internment
By Claire Trageser, The Daily Transcript
August 12, 2011
Tad Yamaguchi said he became a prisoner of war in his own country at only 12 years old. Then, four years after his release, he went to fight for the same country that imprisoned him.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Yamaguchi and his family were among the 110,000 Japanese Americans sent to internment camps (Poston, Arizona block 220-8-A), which President Franklin D. Roosevelt said were meant to protect national security.
Yamaguchi was a U.S. citizen, and his parents had lived in the country for more than 40 years when they were forced off their farm outside Monterey and shipped by train to a camp in Arizona. He spent two years living in the camp. When released, he returned to finish high school in San Jose.
At the age of 18, Yamaguchi made a big decision. Although many would consider his choice remarkable, he said it was an easy one to make. Yamaguchi decided to join the Marines, to fight for the country that had kept him sequestered in a sweltering Arizona camp only four years before. "I do not lie, I joined because I needed the job," he said. "That's the truth." It was the beginning of his 20-year military career.
Now the 81-year-old veteran lives in an assisted living facility in Point Loma and tells his story with a smile and glimmering eyes. But he also interrupts his narrative with reflective pauses that stretch on for minutes and refuses to delve deeper into his war memories, saying simply, "I don't think about that." Yamaguchi does, however, recall his conviction that despite his ethnic background, he belonged in the Marines.
"I knew in my heart that I was an American, and nothing or nobody could change that," he said.
Because Yamaguchi played clarinet in high school, he joined the Marines as a musician and became a member of the Marine Band. One of the band members who helped recruit Yamaguchi had been a prisoner of war with the Japanese, but, Yamaguchi said, "He never once held it against me."
After surviving boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Yamaguchi went to Korea at the start of the war in 1950. He served as a stretcher bearer for eight months and was part of the force that landed at Yonghung-do during the Battle of Inchon.
After the war, he played with the Marine Band at the Hollywood Bowl and at the opening ceremony for Disneyland in 1955.
Yamaguchi also served in the Vietnam War and spent time stationed in Okinawa, Japan, which was slightly unusual for him because of his heritage. But, he said, even when he wore civilian clothes in Japan, the people there knew he was American.
He said Japanese people never asked why he was fighting for the Americans, and even his own family never questioned his decision to join the United States' side. And during his service, Yamaguchi said he rarely encountered prejudice from his fellow Marines.
Yamaguchi retired from the Marines in 1969 with the rank of staff sergeant. He received $10,000 from the GI bill to attend college, first at San Jose State and then at San Diego City College. Because he had enjoyed the San Diego area during his time at Camp Pendleton, Yamaguchi decided to move his family here and bought a home on Point Loma.
But life then dealt him new struggles. His wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and a short time later, his daughter was, too. So instead of finding work, Yamaguchi made do with his military pension and devoted himself to caring for his family.
Yamaguchi now spends his time playing clarinet in nursing homes and -- somewhat surprisingly given his soft voice, gentle nature and advanced age -- playing poker at the Lucky Lady Casino on El Cajon Boulevard.
When he looks back on his life, he says he is able to forgive those who put him in an internment camp because, "I always say in the long run everything worked out all right for me."
"I was never angry about what happened to me," he said. "I always say that when you’re angry, you are your worst enemy."