Livermore Nisei’s Bravery In World War II Recognized

     Livermore resident Tom Takahashi, 91, was one of the troops in the Army's all-Japanese 442nd regiment during World War II. The son of a Japanese couple who farmed near San Jose, Takahashi is a Nisei - a second generation Japanese-American.
At a ceremony at the White House in October, President Obama signed a bill that awards the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to the outfit.

Tom Takahashi

     In attendance at the White House ceremony was Floyd Mori, who was mayor of Pleasanton in the 1970s and a three-term Assemblyman. He was born during the war in a Utah internment camp for native Japanese and Japanese-Americans.
     West Coast Japanese-Americans and Japan natives were moved inland. The federal government feared that Japan could bring in agents via submarines and fishing boats to infiltrate America by blending in with the Japanese-American communities on the West Coast.
     Mori is national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). In his speech at the ceremony, Mori said that the Japanese-American fighters "made the world a better place for all Japanese-Americans in subsequent years."
     "We will be forever grateful for their sacrifice and dedication to life and liberty. They suffered untold ridicule, discrimination, bigotry, and hardship, but they triumphed. The veterans are most deserving of this long overdue honor," said Mori.
     Takahashi could not attend the White House ceremony. However, there will be an awards ceremony in San Jose in February, so that Bay Area veterans can pick up the medals.
     Takahashi, who worked his way up to staff sergeant, was wounded while leading his squad in an attack to save a battalion of 220 American soldiers surrounded near Epinal, France, about 25 kilometers west of the Franco-German border. Takahashi led his squad in the reconnaissance that located the lost battalion, and assessed the strength of the German forces. Takahashi reported back to his commanding officer, a colonel, who was talking to a visiting general. The general was pleased to hear the battalion was found, but used a racial slur about the troops, Takahashi related.
     In response, the colonel became visibly angry, "jabbed his finger into the general's chest, and said, ‘These are Japanese-Americans. I want you to never forget that.' I was never more proud of my colonel than at that moment," recalled Takahashi.
     Approximately 40 of the rescuers died, and 800 were wounded, including Takahashi. In the lost battalion, 20 men died. The remaining 200 got out alive.


     The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed Takahashi's life, as it did for 117,000 of his fellow West Coast Japanese-Americans who were placed in relocation camps farther inland.
     Takahashi was making $15,000 a year as one of 13 tuna fishers on a commercial boat based in San Diego. That was very big pay in 1941, when $3000 was considered a good annual wage, he said. The money enabled Takahashi to buy the best 35mm camera available to help his hobby of photography. His earnings paid for a brand new 1941 Plymouth convertible, which cost him $1200.
      Takahashi was on the fishing boat in Mexican waters on Dec. 7, 1941, and knew nothing about the Pearl Harbor bombing. He learned about it a few days later, when a U.S. Navy ship's crew boarded the fishing boat, and took all 13 Japanese-American crew members to a Navy brig in San Diego. Only the Portuguese captain was able to stay with the boat. After three days, the Navy let all the men go. Takahashi could not rejoin the fishing boat crew. He found work driving a truck at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.
      At that time, all of the West Coast Japanese-Americans were subject to curfew, and couldn't go anywhere from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Takahashi found a way around it. He had Chinese-American friends who had special arm bands that said, "I am a Chinese-American," next to a picture of the American flag. But eventually Takahashi was rounded up with thousands of others in Southern California, and sent to an internment camp in Poston, a place in southwest Arizona that was built on an Indian reservation, without the tribes' cooperation.
     The Colorado River Indian tribes did not want to see the same thing happen to the Japanese that happened to Indians, who were also rounded up, and forced to live in one place, said Takahashi.
     Poston was the biggest of the 10 West Coast camps. It consisted of three separate communities, three miles apart. The entire camp was built by businessman Del Webb, who went on to construct Sun City retirement communities in five states.
"I call it a concentration camp. It was surrounded by barbed wire. The guards carried machine guns. You had these punk PFCs shouting, ‘Get back there,' if you walked anywhere near the fence," said Takahashi.


     Takahashi didn't like being idle, so he volunteered his services to interpret for new Japanese coming to the camp, and making them comfortable. Arizona was so hot in the summer that the men in each of three camp dormitories dug 8x8-foot "rooms" under the buildings, so they could sleep at night.  The only problem with a make-shift room under a building was that scorpions and black widow spiders spent the night there, too."We were always swatting them. A lot of people became ill," said Takahashi.
Takahashi was able to leave the camp with his brother George by volunteering to harvest a farmer's crops near Scotts Bluff, Neb., along with six other men.
     "Mr. Dillman was a rotund fellow, six feet tall and jovial. He needed people to harvest 280 acres of beets. That took about three weeks. When we are ready to leave, Dillman called the FBI agent (who had brought them to Dillman's farm). He wanted us to harvest more crops," said Takahashi.
     It went on like that, with a couple of weeks on one crop, another call to the FBI man, another extension of crop work. Then Takahashi asked Dillman, why didn't he just tell everyone upfront that he needed many weeks of picking. Dillman replied, "Well, you know the FBI." The farmer developed his own effective way of dealing with government red tape.  Takahashi stopped off in Denver on his way back to Arizona. That stop changed his life. He met his future wife there, and was able to remain in Denver, and work in photography.
     All this time, Takahashi had been classified 4-C, which was "enemy alien," and not eligible for the draft. Two weeks after he was married, he was reclassified to 1-A. He received a draft notice, and reported for duty.  Takahashi said that if he had known the government was about to change his draft status, he would have postponed his marriage. To this day, he does not know why his status changed.
     After the war, he obtained a job with Sandia in New Mexico in a photography group. Among his duties was designing electronic equipment for field testing.  Takahashi came to Livermore in 1961 with Sandia. His duties included explosives containment work at Area 8. He retired in 1982.
     Takahashi's two daughters, June Ferreri and Sharon Takahashi, live in Livermore. His son, Thane Takahashi, moved to Sacramento.

Source: http://www.independentnews.com/news/article_1dc66864-1c8c-11e1-8f28-001871e3ce6c.html

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