Two Greenspring Residents

Two Greenspring residents, Japanese-American World War II veterans, receive congressional gold medals.

By Maya Horowitz/The Connection
George Nakamura
November 30, 2011

     George Nakamura and Yukio Kawamoto, two second-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei, served the United States bravely on the battlefield during a time of suspicion towards Asian Americans at home. Their contribution to the war effort was recognized by Congress this November when Nakamura and Kawamoto received Congressional Gold Medals.
      Nakamura and Kawamoto, who both served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during WWII, and were in the same language class, Section 6, at Camp Savage in Minnesota, now live in the same retirement community, Greenspring in Springfield, Virginia.  
        Nakamura was born on Nov 26, 1919 in Reedley, Calif. Kawamoto was born days earlier on Nov. 13, 1919 in Berkeley, Calif. Nakamura was number five of eight siblings. Kawamoto had two sisters who were both sent to live in Japan before he was born. He was raised as an only child.
      Both men were enrolled in college when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Nakamura was studying music with minors in education and art at San Francisco State University. Kawamoto was studying political science at University of California Berkeley.
      NAKAMURA AND KAWAMOTO were both drafted into the military. Nakamura was initially rejected because he only weighed 109 pounds. He later enlisted in the army, to prove his patriotism and passed the physical exam by one pound. Kawamoto was three months from graduating when he was drafted. Berkeley gave him his degree anyway
      Nakamura’s basic training took place at Fort Knox and Kawamoto’s basic training was at Camp Robinson. Both men said they initially had trouble with the latrines, which were marked "White" and "Colored." They weren’t sure which category they fit into. Eventually they were told, "white."
      Nakamura also encountered racial troubles in the bunks at night. The men slept head to toe. The person next to him wrote home to his mother that he had to sleep next to a Japanese man. His mother wrote back, "Don’t turn your back on him. He might stab you in the back."
      Nakamura was left behind as others from his basic training group moved on to different assignments. Eventually, Maj. Dickey came and recruited him for a Japanese language school at Camp Savage. 
Camp Savage Section 6
George Nakamura at Camp Savage, MN
      Kawamoto was also recruited to this school, although not as willingly. He was asked if he would like to go and he replied, "no thanks," but one week later he was on the train to the school anyway.
      It was at Camp Savage, Minn., that Nakamura and Kawamoto met. They were both in the Section 6 language class. Nakamura said they were not friends but acquaintances. They noted how cold Minnesota was, remembering that if they put a Coke bottle outside on the windowsill, it would freeze in less than an hour.
      They shipped out around the same time, but with different assignments. Both went to Fort Snelling and Angel Island before continuing on.
      Nakamura shipped out to Auckland, New Zealand and then Brisbane, Australia. He was with the scanning team of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATS), scanning captured documents. He requested to go to the front lines and was sent to Goodenough, New Guinea. Using his Japanese language skills, he looked over documents and interrogated prisoners. He said the prisoners all said the same two things at first: "I cannot go back to Japan" and "When are you going to kill me?" He also said he was instructed to ask what had become of Amelia Earheart.
      Nakamura went on to Lingayen Bay to work for the Office of War Information, which was a propaganda outfit that tried to entice Japanese soldiers to surrender. About 22 Japanese soldiers surrendered as a result of Nakamura’s efforts and for this, he was awarded a bronze star.
      Kawamoto, from Angel Island, was sent to New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and Bougainville. He assisted the Navy with Japanese translation. He said his skills were particularly useful in the battle for Bougainville. A month before the battle, a disgruntled Japanese soldier deserted his forces and came over to the American side. He warned Kawamoto of the attack. Because of this intelligence, the 37th Infantry Division, which Kawamoto was a part of, was able to bring in reinforcements.

       Kawamoto then went to Lingayen Bay and marched down to Manila. He said the Battle of Manila was "pretty big. I felt like I was in a war." 

      Nakamura and Kawamoto have many of the same awards from the war: Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Occupation of Japan, Victory Medal, Asiatic Theatre Campaign with two bronze stars, American Theatre and a Bronze Star Medal. Nakamura also has an Officer’s Ribbon, for more than 20 years of service, and a good conduct ribbon.
      Nakamura said World War II was different from other wars because it wasn’t political; it was a fight for survival. "I think we would’ve been exterminated if the Japanese won," said Nakamura. "They would’ve considered us traitors." 

      Kawamoto said what made WWII different was the use of the atomic bomb.
      ABOUT THE USE of atomic force to end the war, Nakamura said, "In retrospect it was terrible, but at that time, I had no feelings."
      "I wasn’t happy about it," said Kawamoto, "But there are a lot of things in war you’re not happy about." Kawamoto also noted that Hiroshima was where his parents were from.
      Kawamoto left the military in August 1945, retiring as a technician, third grade. He said his commander general said, "You’ve put 20 months into the Pacific. You’ve done your duty. Go back home and take care of Mama and Papa." He returned immediately to his parents, who had been interred in Topaz, Utah. Kawamoto called it a farce that these camps had towers with guns and sentries so the residents wouldn’t escape.
      Nakamura’s family had also been put into camps. His mother and all of his siblings were in Poston, Arizon block 308. and his father, who was declared a "dangerous enemy alien," because of his involvement in the North America Military Virtues Society, was interred in[Santa Fe]  New Mexico. Nakamura smiled recalling that the family had had to lease their 60-acre orchard and vineyard when they had been put into camps. And ironically, the leasee had been German. (After the war, the Nakamura family got their land back.)

      ”I guess at the time,” he said , ”I thought it was just simply inevitable. What the hell was I going to say? I was young, war was going on, what was I to think? I can’t approve it. That was what the government decided to do. I had no other alternative but to maintain my patriotism.”
      Unlike Kawamoto, Nakamura stayed in the military after the war was over. He visited occupied Japan in September 1945 and encountered discrimination by the British occupation forces. Kawamoto worked for the occupation forces and the federal service until 1979 when he retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel. He worked as a contractor until 2000 when he retired completely.
      Kawamoto took a position at the State Department as an interpreter in 1946. He worked there until the 1970s when he retired.
      Nakamura met his wife, Sylvia, in St. Paul, Minn. They had four daughters, Diana, Joyce, Patricia and Linda.
      Kawamoto met his wife, Sayoko, in Japan. They had four children, Craig, Sharon, Don and Brian.
      Nakamura and Kawamoto met in 1943 but didn’t see each other again until the early 1970s. By chance, they ran into each other in Tokyo. Neither thought much of the meeting.
      Nakamura continued to work in military intelligence as a civilian after his discharge from the Army, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves, and finally ended his service in 2000, at the young age of 81.
     In February 2007, Kawamoto retired to Greenspring in Springfield with his wife. Three years later, when Nakamura was thinking about where he and his wife should retire, he heard through a friend at the Japanese American Veterans Association that Kawamoto was at Greenspring. He said Kawamoto being there didn’t influence his decision, but it worked out nicely. The two now live within walking distance of each other.
     Congress awarded Nakamura and Kawamoto the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II this November.
      Kawamoto said, "If Congress gives it, it must be pretty good." 
      Nakamura said, "It’s an honor to have Congress acknowledge the fact that Japanese-Americans served in the U.S. army honorably and heroically."

Source: http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/articleprint.asp?article=356215&paper=61&cat=104

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