The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded for “outstanding deeds or service to the United States.”
“I was thankful for this appreciation given by the government in acknowledgment of the fact that we served our country,” said Shibata, 89, of Indio. “What I did is what any American wanted to do. America was my country. We had to win the war.”
The ceremony was at the Go for Broke Memorial, a monument dedicated to Japanese- American veterans of World War II.
President Barack Obama signed legislation in October 2010 that awarded the medal to Japanese-Americans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
Shibata, a member of the Military Intelligence Service, was assigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's team to help rebuild post-war Japan. MacArthur, as supreme commander for the allied powers in Japan, was headquartered in the Dai Ichi Life Insurance Building in Tokyo. There, Shibata translated documents and letters, read magazines, and listened to Radio Tokyo to find out what kind of information — or propaganda — was being spread.
The journey of Shibata's life begins in Indio, where he was born in 1922. His family owned a small farm — behind what is now Shields Date Gardens on Highway 111 in Indio — where he worked while attending Coachella Valley High School. He left the valley in 1941 to attend summer session at Los Angeles City College, then continued on in the fall. His life changed dramatically on Dec. 7 of that year.
“All of a sudden, Pearl Harbor happened,” he said. “The newspapers started writing stories that we might not be loyal Americans.”
Shibata, who was living with his sister on Terminal Island — formerly U.S. Navy property — said rumors were swirling all around.
“They decided all the Japanese in the western states would have to be moved away for security reasons,” Shibata said. “All of a sudden, a notice came one day that said, ‘You have 48 hours to prepare yourself for evacuation. You will be removed from this island.'”
Instead of waiting around to be forced out, Shibata returned to his parents' home.
Shorty after his homecoming, members of the valley's Japanese-American community were told they, too, had to leave.
Shibata was working in the fields with his brother when he saw a man in a uniform approaching. It was his brother's good friend, who was now a deputy sheriff.
“He said, ‘George, I've got some bad news to tell you. Two weeks from today, your whole family is going to be evacuated.'”
They were only allowed one suitcase per person. The families would be ordered to meet at a predetermined spot in downtown Indio.
The friend was kind to give the family a heads-up, but “it was disastrous news,” Shibata said.
On May 22, 1942, the family boarded a Greyhound bus, which pulled out of town and onto a two-lane road heading east, following the route of what is now Interstate 10. After about four hours, they reached Parker, Ariz., where the bus made a turn and drove into the mesquite brush. Suddenly, rows of black barracks, 100 feet long by 20 feet wide, popped out of the desolate southwestern Arizona landscape.
The Poston War Relocation Center, near the California border, was the largest — in terms of area — of all the American internment camps. At peak population, the camp held about 17,000 internees — mostly from Southern California. Poston was built by Del Webb, the developer who later built retirement communities including Sun City, Ariz., Sun City Palm Desert, and Sun City Shadow Hills.
“They gave us steel cots — and mattress covers. They said, ‘There's a pile of hay in the neighborhood. Fill your cover with the hay.'” The makeshift mattress was just one example of the many Spartan amenities.
“It was 110 degrees, no air conditioning. My first meal in camp was sauerkraut and wieners — which I'd never had in my life, and I've never eaten in combination since,” he said.
To pay for personal items such as toothpaste and soap, he had to find a job at the camp (Poston camp 1). He was paid $12 month for a full-time job helping knock down mesquite trees and clear the land where a garden could be planted. He found more lucrative work outside the camp, in the fields, making 50 cents an hour. The month went by so fast, he said, and when he returned, he was antsier than ever to get out of that “prison.”
He was finally able to leave the camp because he agreed to relocate to Chicago — far enough from the West Coast to not be a threat, in the government's view — where his older brother was living.
It was while he was in Chicago that he decided to join the service. His brother, who was serving in the 442nd at the time, had been injured and was in a hospital in Europe.
|Charles Shibata, MIS|
After being honorably discharged in June 1946, he returned to the valley, where, beginning in 1951, he went to work for famed aviator Jacqueline Cochran at her Cochran Ranch Golf Course — later Indian Springs Country Club — in Indio. He worked as golf course manager and supervisor for 17 years.
Shibata's granddaughter, Brooke Shibata, 24, of Palm Desert, was present when her grandfather received his medal.
“Things I've studied in history books, he's lived through it I was really excited he could be honored in this way.”