Recognizing the exemplary service of Nisei (U.S. born Japanese) veterans in 2010, President Obama signed legislation to grant the Gold Medal collectively to those who were in the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Horikawa served in the MIS as a Japanese translator during the war. How he earned the nation’s highest civilian honor is as noteworthy as how he received it seven decades later.
Horikawa and his younger brother, Herbert Horikawa, were born in San Francisco. Their parents had emigrated there from Japan, where they’d met. His father, Shojiro Horikawa, was a printer and his mother, Kinuye Horikawa, was a ‘schoolgirl,’ a term for a young woman living in a home where she worked for room and board. It was the home of a Japanese American newspaper owner, for whom Horikawa’s father worked as a printer.
All was well for the family until Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. Because of covert actions preceding the attack and the attack itself, within 24 hours almost 3,000 Japanese Americans were considered ‘dangerous enemy aliens’ and a threat to U.S. security. Ten weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, requiring everyone believed by the government to be suspicious to be evacuated from military areas. By late March 1942, evacuation was mandatory for all Japanese Americans on the west coast.
The plan was to find new jobs for the evacuees and relocate them. But would-be employers refused, afraid their own businesses would be sabotaged. So American concentration camps were set up in remote areas. Horikawa’s family -- like other Japanese Americans representing less than 1% of the U.S. population -- had one week to vacate their home, taking only what they could carry. Horikawa’s father stored his printing press, wondering if he’d ever see it again.
The family was sent to the Salinas rodeo grounds (Salinas Assembly Center) in California and then to Poston, Arizona, on a Native American reservation in the Arizona desert. It was one of 10 American concentration camps in the region that held a combined 120,000 evacuees in austere living conditions. Among them were 75,000 U.S. citizens. Half the camp population was under age 17. Horikawa was 15 and his brother was 8. Like others in the camp, they made the best of it.
Meanwhile, the widow of the Japanese printer from San Francisco, for whom Horikawa’s father had worked, was able to move out before the restrictions were imposed. She and Horikawa’s father kept in touch, and through her, it was possible for Horikawa to come to Philadelphia and attend The Westtown School in Chester County.
Horikawa smiled when recalling that he then became a ‘schoolboy,’ since he lived at the headmaster’s home and worked there for his room and board. He noted that U.S. born Japanese males originally were exempt from the draft, but later Congress changed their status from ‘enemy alien’ to ‘citizen.’ In 1945, after finishing accelerated courses at Westtown and receiving his diploma, he was drafted. He was one of some 6,000 Japanese Americans serving their country while their families were in American concentration camps. (By 1950, the camps were all closed.)
Horikawa said he expected to be sent to Italy. However, because he had learned his parents’ native language, he was assigned to the U.S. Military Intelligence Service and was sent to Tokyo as a translator for the British Intelligence Service. While in Japan for a year, he was able to connect with family members.
“My father wrote a long letter to relatives in Japan, explaining why his son was there in a G.I. uniform,” Horikawa said with a smile.
Honorably discharged after two-and-a-half years of service, Horikawa went to San Francisco first to find his father’s printing press and ship it to Philadelphia. Thus his father could re-start his business.
Horikawa then went to Penn State. He joined Sigma Phi Alpha, a Quaker fraternity, and graduated in 1952 with a degree in chemistry. Noting The Westtown School’s Quaker heritage, he said his employment included two companies with Quaker ties.
He and his wife, Emi -- who had lived inland and escaped incarceration -- have two daughters and five grandchildren. They met through a Japanese youth group and are longtime members of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. He noted that his mother, who was raised Buddhist, became a Presbyterian. He also was a longtime member of Swarthmore Lions Club, serving as treasurer and president and receiving state and international awards.
The Horikawas lived in Swarthmore from 1957- 2007, when they moved to Maris Grove, where he belongs to the retirement community’s Penn State Club and Veterans Club. It was through the clandestine planning and hard work of Veterans Club President Larry Lembo -- with help from Emi -- that Horikawa was totally surprised to discover he was guest of honor at a club meeting last year.
It all came about because in November 2011, Japanese American veterans of World War II were recognized and honored at a ceremony in our nation’s capital. Horikawa had been unable to attend. So the ceremony, in effect, came to him. PA State Rep. Patrick Meehan came to the club meeting to present the Congressional Gold Medal to him in an appropriate solemn ceremony. As an added surprise, Lembo gave him an Army camp shirt and cap to go with the formal document and prestigious medal.
|Congressional Gold Medal|
And now many years later, Horikawa’s dedicated service in defense of his country has been properly acknowledged in a most significant and memorable way. It could be said that the surprise presentation of the prestigious medal made the moment his own special Memorial Day.
|Shojiro Horikawa, 1945|