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."
In the last edition of the Pacific Citizen, Floyd Mori provides misleading information about the legislative effort that resulted in the passage of the Confinement Sites Preservation Grant Program. I have sent the attached article to the PC for publication. Since the article is critical of JACL, I doubt whether it will be published. Feel free to circulate it to your contacts.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Gerald Yamada, National Coordinator
Japanese American National Heritage Coalition
In his National Director’s Report (Pacific Citizen July 15-Aug 4, 2011), Floyd Mori provided readers a narcissistic account of how the National Park Service (NPS) grants program came to be authorized by Public Law 109-441. As National Coordinator for the Japanese American National Heritage Coalition (Heritage Coalition), I am compelled to set the record straight.
Mori wrongly attributes passage of Public Law 109-441 to support from JACL and John Tateishi. The record shows that the National JACL Board initially voted to not join the Heritage Coalition and therefore not to support the Heritage Coalition’s initiative to create a new grant program to preserve the confinement sites.
When asked by a member of the audience about the initiative at the Arkansas All-Camps Workshop, Takeishi stated that he did not think the legislation had any chance of passing. Although JACL did eventually join the Heritage Coalition, Takeishi never returned any of my phone calls to discuss the legislation strategy. The record also shows that not a single communication went from Takeishi or Mori to the JACL Chapters asking them to support the legislation. Nor does the record show a single letter of support sent to a Member of Congress by National JACL or a JACL Chapter. At critical points, when I asked members of the Heritage Coalition to contact their Senators and Representatives, at every point my friends in the DC JACL Chapter said that nothing was sent by National JACL to the DC Chapter about supporting the legislation.
This lack of vision, leadership, and support made JACL largely irrelevant to the successful passage of Public Law 109-441 and its implementation.
Mori was right to say that Congressman Bill Thomas was extremely helpful in moving the legislation through the House. But Mori was wrong about what motivated Thomas. It is simply delusional to say that Thomas, a very, very conservative Republican out of Bakersfield, sponsored the bill out of “close friendship” with Mori.
Thomas, once an instructor at Bakersfield College, told me at our first meeting that he deeply regretted what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. Thomas was the lead sponsor of the legislation that designated Manzanar as a NPS unit. Mori’s characterization of Thomas’ support would have allowed opponents to label the bill as “special interest” legislation and thus kill it in committee.
Mori’s awkward attempt to enhance his personal legacy should not come be at the expense of Japanese Americans whose hard work in fact produced the legislative success. Congressman Bob Matsui had agreed to be the lead Democratic sponsor but died before Thomas was able to introduce the Heritage Coalition’s bill in the House. Thomas then asked Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Congressman Mike Honda to join him in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to other House Members asking for their support. It was this joint letter plus the over 200 Heritage Coalition letters that produced 114 bipartisan co-sponsors.
In the Senate, Senator Daniel K. Inouye was the bill’s sponsor. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas was the lead Republican co-sponsor. Senator Daniel Akaka was the ranking minority member on the committee with jurisdiction over the bill. Senators Inouye and Akaka successfully opposed unwanted amendments to the bill and created the legislative history making all member organizations of the Heritage Coalition eligible to apply for NPS grants. Today, the Heritage Coalition numbers 33 national and local organizations.
Public Law 109-441 is authorizing legislation. To implement the program, annual appropriations legislation also is needed. Every year since Public Law 109-441 was passed, Congresswoman Matsui has taken the lead in sending out a “Dear Colleague” letter asking other Members to join her in asking the Appropriations Committee to fund the NPS grant program. Congressman Honda has been equally helpful but is constrained because he is himself is a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Two years lapsed before the program received funding. In the last fiscal year, the President requested $1 million for the NPS grants program. The House Appropriations Sub-committee, chaired by Congressman Norm Dicks, upped the amount to $2.5 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Inouye, further increased the amount to $3 million, which was the amounted enacted.
With the tremendous pressure that Congress now faces in reducing the federal deficit, we will need their support, and yours, to continue funding the NPS grant program.