Archives Spotlight: Remembering Nisei Veterans
November 11, 2021
During World War II,
thousands of Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military. Nearly 80 years later, as the number of Nisei veterans with firsthand memories of this history dwindles, we are immensely grateful for the many veterans and their families who have contributed their personal collections and testimonies to be preserved in our digital archives. This Veterans’ Day, we offer a look at some of the photos, oral histories, and other artifacts in the Densho Digital Repository that help keep this story alive today.
Lawson Sakai attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, but was rejected due to his Japanese ancestry. He went on to join the 442nd when military service was reopened to Japanese Americans in 1943, and would earn a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantryman Badge, and a Congressional Gold Medal.
Tosh Yasutake’s father was arrested by the FBI after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and held in DOJ internment camps while the rest of the family was forcibly removed to Minidoka concentration camp. Tosh volunteered for the 442nd hoping it would help with the release of his father.
Francis Mas Fukuhara was one of thousands of Japanese Americans who joined the Military Intelligence Service during WWII. He describes the irony of the military recruiting Nisei and Kibei as linguists after branding them as untrustworthy because of their knowledge of Japanese language and culture.
Soldiers of the 442nd posing in front of a sign that reads “Danger – Mines.” Italy, c. 1944-1945. Photo courtesy of the Iino Family.
Soldier Tak Kondo with a group in front of the USO in Heart Mountain concentration camp. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Matsushita and the Manzanar National Historic Site Collection.
Japanese American soldiers playing cards at Camp Savage, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of the Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library.
Tokeo Tagami (standing, second from left) and other Military Intelligence Service linguists, c. 1945. Photo courtesy of the Tagami Family Collection.
Japanese American soldier Toshikuni Taenaka performing a military hand salute outside his parents’ home in Brighton, Colorado. Photo courtesy of the Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library.
A group of 442nd soldiers pose in front of a canal in Italy, c. 1944-1945. Photo courtesy of the Iino Family.
442nd soldier shaving outside his tent at a military encampment in Italy. Photo courtesy of the Iino Family.
A group of 442nd soldiers taking a break during training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of the Saul Collection.
Two Japanese American soldiers crouch down next to a military grave with flowers. Photo courtesy of the Masao Sakagami Collection.
Soldiers on a train. Photo courtesy of the Masao Sakagami Collection.
A veteran waves while marching in a parade along Kalakaua Avenue in Honolulu, Hawa`i for the 50th anniversary reunion of 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Photo courtesy of the Iino Family.
Senninbari, or thousand-stitch belt, made by Min Tsubota’s mother to protect her son in battle. Each of the thousand knots was sewn by a different woman in Tule Lake concentration camp. On the belt is stitched Min’s Buddhist name, the traditional Buddhist chant of “Namu Amida Butsu,” and a dedication in English. Courtesy of the Tsubota Family Collection.
[Header: Japanese American soldier Toshikuni Taenaka performing a military hand salute outside his parents’ home in Brighton, Colorado.
Photo courtesy of the Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library.]