August 13, 1995 in Features

Victory And Beyond Freedom Fighters Japanese Americans Fought Discrimination At Home As They Battled For Their Country Abroad

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The underbrush in the Vosges Mountains of France was so thick GIs would pass right by the Nazi machine gunners never knowing what hit them in the back.

In three days of savage combat in October 1944, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought bayonet to breast to rescue the Lost Battalion - Texans trapped behind the German line.

Where three other attempts failed, they succeeded. But the fight whittled K Company’s 187 riflemen to 17. Among the survivors: Spokane’s Fred Shiosaki.

At a memorial service later, a U.S. general looking over the assembly barked, “Colonel, I wanted all your men here.”

“Sir,” the commander replied, “this is all that’s left.” The Rescue of the Lost Battalion would burn shrapnel into Shiosaki’s side, a hole into the German line and an indelible image into the nation’s consciousness:

That of the 442nd “Go For Broke” Combat Team. All Japanese Americans. All volunteer.

Out of internment camps in Idaho, from under martial law in Hawaii and struggling businesses in Spokane, they served their country.

Back home, the families and friends of the “Go For Broke” and the 100th Infantry Battalion were classified as enemy aliens. In the field, these men would become the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army.

Young Danny Inouye lost his right arm and won a Distinguished Service Cross fighting with the 442nd in Italy.

When he came home, sleeve pinned to his shoulder, he was refused a haircut.

In Spokane, wounded Pacific war veteran Spady Koyama was refused entry into a veterans’ club.

The Japanese Americans “came home loaded with medals and covered with scars and minus limbs and eyes and found themselves getting kicked out of Arizona barbershops and San Francisco restaurants just as if they had never left home,” wrote cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

Yet 40 years later, U.S. Sen. Inouye said that there was no doubt their fight had changed some things.

Their valor propelled statehood for Hawaii, citizenship for thousands of Japanese immigrants and dignity for a slender bespectacled kid from Hillyard.

“We had control of our own fate,” said Shiosaki. “I got something out of being in the Army: I got the GI Bill and went to college. My mother and father, never eligible to be American citizens, finally were, and one of the proudest moments of my life was watching them being sworn in, in the 1950s.”

Nearly 27,000 Japanese Americans served in Europe during World War II, including the 4,500 men of the Go For Broke and 100th.

Another 6,000 served in the Pacific in the Military Intelligence Service, including retired Col. Spady Koyama of Spokane.

In Seattle recently, an admiral blurted he’d never heard of Japanese Americans serving in the Pacific.

“Did you ever hear Admiral Nimitz speak Japanese?” Koyama retorted. “We spoke for them, we wrote for them, we did everything for them.”

Koyama, born and raised in Ferry County, was among the Japanese American linguists who interrogated 14,000 prisoners and translated millions of captured documents.

Military analysts say their work shortened the war by at least two years. But it also remained a state secret for 25 years. They were a weapon the Japanese Command never suspected.

Not so the “Go For Broke.” In 1944, even the German radio propagandist Axis Sally warned of the “little brown men.” Their influence survives to this day.

Young George Sawada was forced out of medical school into an internment camp near Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1942. His father nonetheless insisted he volunteer for the U.S. Army.

“This is your country,” he said. “You are honor-bound to defend it.”

Sawada, in the 442nd, died by a sniper’s bullet in Italy. A younger brother, in the 100th, was wounded five times. Still another brother, the youngest, served in the occupation government in Japan and today, that man, Spokane’s Denny Yasuhara, is the national president of the Japanese American Citizens League.

In July, Yasuhara met with President Clinton to discuss affirmative action. Later, he shared his biography with a reporter.

In the first paragraph are his brothers’ service records in the 100th/ 442nd.

“It was a source of pride to us, but more than that it helped us turn things around,” Yasuhara said.

The heroism of the “Go For Broke” men was invoked in the 1988 fight to get compensation for internment, he said. It helped erode the stigma of being a Japanese descendant.

“I don’t have to apologize to anybody for my life and what has happened,” said Shiosaki.

Fred Shiosaki had a hard Hillyard head. Got a problem? He went to a vacant lot and duked it out. He ran with everyone in those days, Irish, Italian, German kids.

Then Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, Shiosaki was not like anyone at all. The senior at Rogers High did not go to school the next day. Within three months, his family, Spokane residents since 1915, were classified as enemy aliens. A month after that, 120,000 Japanese Americans from Wenatchee to Seattle, Kennewick to California, were rounded up.

In Spokane, Japanese Americans were not interned. But the Shiosakis’ cameras, hunting rifles and binoculars were confiscated. Chinese families downtown donned buttons that said “I am Chinese.”

The Shiosakis took down their Japanese art. They stopped gathering with other members of Central Methodist church. Business at their Hillyard Laundry drained away.

“It was so uncomfortable,” said Shiosaki’s wife, Lily, then a freshman at Lewis and Clark High School. “We had no feelings for Japan. We were Americans.”

Barred from the draft, Fred Shiosaki enrolled at Gonzaga University, where Navy pilots were being trained. The atmosphere was so tense he can barely speak of it today.

“I was flunking out of school,” he said. “You couldn’t manage this thing.”

When the War Department began accepting volunteers for a segregated Japanese American unit, he jumped.

His arrival at Camp Shelby, Miss., dropped him into a world of whites-only drinking fountains and whitesonly officers. The unit was a patchwork of Hawaiian plantation workers and internees, so volatile and violent it made Hillyard look like a polo club.

Back home, meanwhile, the Shiosaki family was worried sick. Their oldest son, proudly sent to study at the Imperial University in Japan before Pearl Harbor, was now trapped there. A second son, Roy, drafted before a temporary ban on Japanese Americans serving, was relegated to KP duty.

Fred Shiosaki’s greatest fear was that Roy would someday be transferred to the “Go For Broke” and hurt. Brothers and cousins served in the unit and died together. Roy never did join the 442nd, but he served with distinction in another unit in Europe, earning a Bronze Star.

In Spokane, meanwhile, their mother did as mothers everywhere did: hung a flag with two blue stars - representing her two sons - in her window.

The “Go For Broke” men were in Italy when the war in Europe ended. They began preparing for the Pacific.

At one point, the War Department suggested dressing the seasoned veterans in Japanese uniforms to more realistically train Pacific recruits. Horrified opposition among the men killed the idea.

Shiosaki was still in Europe debriefing German prisoners when the end in the Pacific came. He arrived home Christmas Eve, 1945. It was - and was not - a different world.

When a Japanese American veteran applied for membership in Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 51 in Spokane, he was refused on the basis it would upset Pacific war veterans.

That enraged Col. Spady Koyama, a Pacific war veteran terribly wounded when a kamikaze plane hit his ship. Koyama immediately applied and was refused as well.

Koyama got other Japanese American vets to apply in pairs until the brouhaha boiled over to the point the national VFW commander apologized. Koyama promptly joined the Military Order of the Purple Hearts.

“The fact is, we had risked our lives to prove we were just as good Americans as anyone else,” said Koyama.

But the Japanese Americans were not like anyone else. When the war broke out, there were nearly 5,000 state, federal and local laws restricting their rights and activities, Yasuhara said.

After the war, Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens until the Walter-McCarran Act of 1952. And in Idaho, as naturalized citizens, they weren’t allowed to vote until the Kennedy election.

Subtler racism in jobs, restaurants and recreation persisted. In Spokane, Indian Canyon remains a favorite golf course with older Japanese Americans because for years it was the only place they were welcome.

Yasuhara has spent his life in the fight. He became a renowned middle school teacher, challenging stereotypes with every student.

Koyama went on to a distinguished career in military counterintelligence. At 78, he’s a favorite at reunions of retired officers and the Military Intelligence Service.

He relishes opportunities to speak to schools. He is Japanese American - no hyphen please.

“I am not a hyphenated American,” he says.

Shiosaki became the first director of the Spokane Air Pollution Control Authority and later retired from Washington Water Power as manager of environmental affairs.

Today, he is best-known for his fly fishing and conservation. Getting him to speak of the war is like trying to hook a trout.

“War is not an individual thing,” he says. “I’m not a hero, I never was. But that unit was something, really something.”

At the Pentagon, on a wall commemorating the greatest land battles of U.S. history, is a photograph of the Rescue of the Lost Battalion.

Not long after the war, on a date with Lily in Spokane, Shiosaki was attacked by an angry drunk. The young man who had gone up the Vosges Mountains and come back walked away.

“I took it personally,” Shiosaki said. “I still do. But this tough old Hillyard kid is a major pacifist.

“I don’t need the fight. I did my share.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color Photos; editorial cartoon

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LISTEN IN TO END OF WAR ON CITYLINE Fifty years ago, the news crackled from radio sets across America, causing the nation to join in celebration and prayer. Japan surrendered. The war was over! To mark the golden anniversary of the end of World War II, The Spokesman-Review and Cityline are offering a chance to hear again the sounds of victory over Japan. To listen to excerpts from historic broadcasts and World War II era songs, just call Cityline on a pushbutton telephone at 458-8800 in Washington or 765-8811 in Idaho and then press the following extensions for these recordings: News 1151: Sample of Tokyo Rose broadcast. 1152: President Harry Truman explains why atom bomb was dropped, Aug. 9. 1153: Truman explains limits on using bomb. 1154: Truman on lessons of victory in Europe. 1155: Gen. Douglas MacArthur opens surrender ceremonies on USS Missouri, Sept. 2. 1156: Close of surrender ceremonies. 1157: Truman announces surrender. 1158: Truman proclaims V-J Day. 1159: MacArthur predicts the future in the Pacific. 1160: Adm. Chester Nimitz discusses victory over Japan.

Musical excerpts 1161: “Remember Pearl Harbor.” 1162: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” 1163: “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” 1164: “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to. 1165: “Sentimental Journey.”

Cityline is a free service, but normal long-distance charges apply for callers outside Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

This sidebar appeared with the story: LISTEN IN TO END OF WAR ON CITYLINE Fifty years ago, the news crackled from radio sets across America, causing the nation to join in celebration and prayer. Japan surrendered. The war was over! To mark the golden anniversary of the end of World War II, The Spokesman-Review and Cityline are offering a chance to hear again the sounds of victory over Japan. To listen to excerpts from historic broadcasts and World War II era songs, just call Cityline on a pushbutton telephone at 458-8800 in Washington or 765-8811 in Idaho and then press the following extensions for these recordings: News 1151: Sample of Tokyo Rose broadcast. 1152: President Harry Truman explains why atom bomb was dropped, Aug. 9. 1153: Truman explains limits on using bomb. 1154: Truman on lessons of victory in Europe. 1155: Gen. Douglas MacArthur opens surrender ceremonies on USS Missouri, Sept. 2. 1156: Close of surrender ceremonies. 1157: Truman announces surrender. 1158: Truman proclaims V-J Day. 1159: MacArthur predicts the future in the Pacific. 1160: Adm. Chester Nimitz discusses victory over Japan.

Musical excerpts 1161: “Remember Pearl Harbor.” 1162: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” 1163: “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” 1164: “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to. 1165: “Sentimental Journey.”

Cityline is a free service, but normal long-distance charges apply for callers outside Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.


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