Japanese American Veterans Association


Vol. 4, No. 55, December 1, 2022

JAVA Mourns Loss of Honorary Chair

Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura, MOH 

Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura.

The Japanese American Veterans Association is saddened to learn of the passing of Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura.  He is a JAVA Honorary Chairperson, who made substantial contributions to promoting the legacy of the World War II Japanese American soldiers.  As a combat veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II and as a Medal of Honor recipient for his valor during the Korean War, he is a role model for those who make military service their chosen career.  His spirit and support will be missed. 

Gerald Yamada

JAVA President 

[EdNote: Netflix has a series on MOH winners. Hershey Miyamura is featured in episode 4: https://www.netflix.com/title/80169786. Also, a piece on him, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, to introduce his story in the 2020 edition of American Valor: https://vimeo.com/478640698. Lastly, an American Veterans Center interview with him that was filmed in 2020: https://youtube/TvUycZhp2U4.]

Medal of Honor Recipients Announce Passing of Medal of Honor Recipient

Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura 

Medal of Honor Recipients Announce Passing of Medal of Honor Recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura. Photo: Courtesy of Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMHS).

Congressional Medal of Honor Society Press Release

November 29, 2022

Reprinted with Permission

Earned Nation’s Highest Award for Valor during Korean War

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C.— The Congressional Medal of Honor Society regretfully announces that Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, the second-to-last living Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Nov. 29, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 97.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented Miyamura with the Medal of Honor on White House grounds in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27, 1953, for his actions near Taejon-Ni, Korea, during the Korean War.

On April 24, 1951, then-Cpl. Miyamura was a machine-gun squad leader with Company H occupying a defensive position when the enemy threatened to overrun the position. Aware of the imminent danger to his men, he engaged in close hand-to-hand combat, killing approximately 10 of the enemy before returning to administer first aid to the wounded and directed their evacuation.

When another assault hit the line, he manned his machine gun until his ammunition was expended and ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind bayoneting his way through infiltrated enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisted in its operation. He ordered his men to fall back while covering their movement and killed more than 50 of the enemy before his ammunition was depleted and he was severely wounded but was still seen continuing to fight an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers before being captured by the enemy.

News that Miyamura was to be awarded the Medal of Honor was kept quiet until his release from a prisoner of war camp on Aug. 23, 1953.

In his Living History documentary in the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Video Library, Medal of Honor Recipient Miyamura said of the Medal of Honor and its connection to all servicemembers’ sacrifices, “Until I saw that flag—the Star-Bangled Banner waving in the breeze–did I know. I’ve learned what it represents. That alone is what makes you feel so humble. So many of these fellas who deserve it never came home to any recognition. There are so many Americans who don’t know what the Medal represents or what any soldier or service woman or man does for this country, and I believe one of these days–I hope one of these days–they will learn of the sacrifices that a lot of the men and women have made for this country.”

Miyamura was born in Gallup, New Mexico, on Oct. 6, 1925, and joined the U.S. Army during World War II in January 1945 as part of the all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, composed mostly of Japanese Americans. He was discharged from the Army shortly after Japan surrendered but later enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was recalled to active duty following the start of the Korean War. Upon return to the U.S. after his release from capture, Miyamura worked for the U.S. Post Office in Gallup.

He is survived by numerous family members.  Burial arrangements are pending.

There are now 64 living Medal of Honor Recipients alive today.


2022 Veterans Day Program 

JAVA Vice President Howard High served as emcee at the 2022 Veterans Day Program, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

With gratitude for all the men and women who have served in the United States military throughout our history, JAVA Vice President and U.S. Army veteran Howard High welcomed attendees to the annual JAVA/NJAMF Veterans Day Program. High then introduced JAVA President Gerald Yamada, who in his remarks discussed the 2022 Veterans Day theme of "Honor." Yamada went on to describe the path of Japanese Americans, who with the signing of Executive Order 9066 had their honor along with their constitutional rights stripped away. Yet even with the loss of dignity, Nisei men and women volunteered to courageously defend the nation during WWII and proved the loyalty of Japanese Americans. Their selfless acts of bravery countered the "overt prejudice" they experienced and paved the way for "President Ford to revoke Executive Order 9066 in 1976" and then in 1988 for Congress to state that E.O. 9066 was "a 'wrong' committed by America."  In commemorating Veterans Day, Yamada reminded all to "be grateful for the patriotism of the WWII Japanese American soldiers who restored honor... [and] thank them for their service and for the legacy they forged for us."

Gerald Yamada, JAVA President, Veterans Day Program, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

Next, NJAMF Board Member Kristine Minami wished all a "Happy Veterans Day" and then reflected on patriotism. Minami drew attention to the names of the patriots found on the walls of the Memorial and the different aspects of patriotism those individuals represent. She pointed out the inscribed words of Norman Mineta who praised those patriots who "'remained steadfast in their faith in our democratic system,' even when our country unjustly incarcerated them." She also noted the patriotism of righting an injustice "as Ronald Regan did when he said, 'Here we admit a wrong.'" Minami then focused on the patriotism of veterans. With a deep sense of appreciation, she expressed awe for the "patriotism that leads a person to volunteer to put her or his life on the line for their nation, for ideals." Minami celebrated the men and women serving today and called also to mind the patriotism of the Nisei WWII veterans whose names are memorialized on the surrounding granite walls. She closed with an observation on the recent election and patriotism of those who exercised their right to vote: "each time we exercise that right, we honor the legacy of veterans, who defended the core American values of democracy and patriotism."

Kristine Minami, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation Board Member, Veterans Day Program, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

CPT Wade Ishimoto, USA (Ret) introduces keynote speaker LTC Monica C. Williams, USA, Veterans Day Ceremony, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

CPT Wade Ishimoto, USA (Ret), introduced the day's keynote speaker, LTC Monica C. Williams, USA (Ret). Ishimoto shared that LTC Williams is a second-generation immigrant of Korean descent and is currently serving in U.S. Special Operations Command’s Legislative Affairs as a Legislative Liaison. She is a graduate of the Chemical Officers Basic Course, Military Intelligence Advanced Course, and Signals Intelligence Course and holds a bachelor’s in computer information science from Mary Baldwin College, a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College, and a master’s in Data Analytics and Policy from Johns Hopkins University. Before turning the podium over to LTC Williams, Ishimoto described her professional accomplishments as a Chemical Officer and Intelligence Officer and then praised her other accomplishmentsher combat stripes, parachute badge, and free-fall badge. 

LTC Williams opened by sharing that the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism is, for her, a potent reminder of "those Asian Americans before me, who placed duty and loyalty above their limited liberties and justice eight decades ago." She underscored the magnitude of the commitment of Japanese Americans who volunteered to serve despite being "ostracized and then isolated even though they were citizens." Their calling and duty to country were stronger than the forces of prejudice and injustice. "[T]hey were American Citizens, not just by birth, but by mind and heart, and they too wanted to volunteer to defend their country and to defend those who cannot."

Later in her remarks, Williams highlighted the remarkable number of accolades and medals earned by the segregated units of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. However, she went on to say that "honor is not defined by the medals but by the character and actions of a person. Williams considered the sacrifice of Japanese American service members such as Medic James Okubo and Private First Class Frank Ono who both put fellow troop members' safety and care above their own. She then discussed Lieutenant Young Oak Kim, a second-generation Korean American, assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and was given the opportunity to transfer by a commanding officer who understood the tensions between Koreans and Japanese. Kim refused, "I am an American and all the soldiers are American. We are fighting for the same cause." Williams explained how Kim along with Private Irving Akahoshi infiltrated German lines with no cover and "captured two prisoners and obtained information that significantly contributed to the fall of Rome." Williams also praised the heroic efforts and work of the MIS as well as the Japanese American women who served in the Nurses Army Corps and Women's Army Corps, adding that "their service to our country charted the way for women Veterans like me."

In concluding her talk, Williams took time to acknowledge the toll of military service, commenting that "many are imprinted with wounds from service." She offered her gratitude and appreciation to Veterans everywhere: "Your sacrifice and love for this county set an example and inspire our next great generation."

LTC Monica C. Williams, USA, Veterans Day Ceremony, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

Following the speeches, JAVA President Gerald Yamada presented LTC Williams with a framed image of the USPS Go For Broke Stamp and JAVA Commemorative Coin. Then JAVA Executive Council Member LTC Mark Nakagawa, USA (Ret), and LTC Williams placed a wreath before the names of Japanese Americans killed in action during World War II. After the TAPS was played and a moment of silence observed, CPT Wade Ishimoto led the group in "God Bless America." Bringing the program to a close, Howard High thanked the speakers and co-sponsor NJAMF for helping JAVA to honor all Veterans. 

To watch a recording of the 2022 JAVA/NJAMF Veterans Day Program click on link https://www.facebook.com/100064284505584/videos/823207618798366/. 

JAVA Executive Council Member LTC Mark Nakagawa, USA (Ret), and LTC Monica C. Williams, USA, in a moment of silence before the wreath honoring the list of Japanese Americans KIA during WWII. Veterans Day Ceremony, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada. 

L-R: CPT Wade Ishimoto, LTC Monica C. Williams, Howard High, Kristine Minami, LTC Mark Nakagawa, USA (Ret), Gerald Yamada. Veterans Day Program, November 11, 2022. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in WWII, Washington, DC. Photo: Nicole Yamada.

Veterans Day Program Remarks

(as prepared)

November 11, 2022

Lieutenant Colonel Monica C. Williams, U.S. Army

Events of the Past Charted the Path to Where We Are Today 

Standing here at the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, a remembrance of the Japanese Americans during World War II is humbling. I think about those Asian American Veterans before me, who placed duty and loyalty above their limited liberties and justice eight decades ago.

Today, the anniversary of Armistice Day, the day that ended World War I, saw peace for several years after. Then, the world was struck with great tyranny in World War II, and the U.S. was brought into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. With known devastation and horrors of war, many Americans volunteered for something greater than themselves. They volunteered to defend their country and to defend those who cannot.

The terror of war created prejudices and suspicions in the United States towards German, Italian, and Japanese Americans.  Japanese Americans were ostracized and then isolated, even though they were citizens. They were American citizens, not just by birth, but by mind and heart, and they too wanted to volunteer to defend their country and to defend those who cannot.

Despite discrimination and uncertainty about their families’ futures, Japanese Americans volunteered to serve in a segregated unit. Men volunteered from Hawaii and the Mainland. The 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team fought with valor in Italy and France. 21 Medal of Honor Recipients; 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Star Medals, 9,486 Purple Hearts, and many more individual awards. Approximately 18,000 men served in this distinguished unit.

However, honor is not defined by the medals, but by the character and actions of a person. And I can’t talk about honor, without talking about their sacrifices and love... For their Country, their families, and their teammates.

Technician Fifth Grade James Okubo. In October 1944, Medic Okubo exposed himself to machine gun fire, minefields, grenades, and obstacles, to reach his wounded comrades and provided cover, treatment, and extractions. In 2 days, He treated over 2 dozen men, placing the care of the wounded above his own safety.

In July 1944, On Hill 140, in Italy, Private First-Class Frank Ono, while attacking the fortified key terrain, Ono and his squad advanced the hill, while Ono neutralized a machine gunner and sniper, while under fire. Eventually joining the rest of the platoon, the platoon was ordered to withdraw. He valiantly volunteered to cover his platoon, under constant fire and little to no cover, focusing on the safety of his teammates over his own.

In February 1943, the second Korean-American joined this distinguished unit. LT Young Oak Kim was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion. His commanding officer offered a transfer, but Kim stated, “I am an American and all the soldiers are Americans. We are fighting for the same cause.”  

During the battle of Anzio, Kim volunteered to capture German soldiers for intelligence information during broad daylight. He and Private Irving Akahoshi crawled more than 800 yards, infiltrating German lines with no cover. They captured two prisoners and obtained information that significantly contributed to the fall of Rome.

Nisei served in the Pacific. As an intelligence officer, I know languages and cultural understanding are imperatives. Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in 1941 the War Department acknowledged the lack of Japanese speakers in their Military Intelligence Service.

Roy Matsumoto graduated from the language school and volunteered for a special assignment with a unit, now known as Merrill’s Marauders. Operating behind Japanese lines in Burma, Matsumoto’s language skills, tactical proficiency, and bravery, repeatedly gained critical intelligence on Japanese disposition and supplies.

In April 1944, Matsumoto was assigned to the Green Team with 2nd Battalion, who was surrounded and cut off by Japanese forces. Once again, he volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines, risking being captured and killed, to gain critical intelligence of enemy forces. 2nd Battalion was able to set up a trap with Matsumoto’s intelligence and quick thinking. Enemy forces suffered heavy casualties and the 2nd battalion suffered none. Matsumoto saved the lives of the Green Team.

Japanese-Americans serving in the MIS interpreted over 18,000 captured Japanese Documents, interrogated over 10,000 captured prisoners, developed propaganda, assisted in enemy surrenders, and saved innocent civilians. General Douglas MacArthur said the Nisei shortened the War by 2 years with their service. 

I would be remiss if I did not highlight, Japanese-American Women who served in the Army Nurse Corps and Women’s Army Corps. Their drive and service to our country charted the way for women Veterans like me.

Almost all Americans can trace their heritage to this country as immigrants. As a daughter of parents who immigrated here from Korea, I can relate to the words, “Japanese by blood, American in mind and heart.” I reflect on the men and women of this greatest generation. And despite the prejudices and discriminations they endured, they opened doors for Asian-American generations who followed.

I wish I could highlight each member of the 100/442nd today. The sacrifices the Nisei Soldiers endured while their families were incarcerated and/or treated unfairly are a true reflection of selfless sacrifice for their love of their country. They honored their families, many of whose parents are aliens.

Their courageous actions and humbleness are true reflections of their character and their merit, a core organizing principle of this country. They earned the confidence of officers during their time. And will be remembered and honored by the content of their character and not by appearance.

Nisei Soldiers continued to serve with honor after military service. In their communities, in Civic organizations, and government. These Veterans continued to serve to honor the fallen, uphold the Constitution, and push the potential of the country they love.

A motto encapsulates the ideals guiding a group. It motivates, molds, and inspires.

The 100th Motto: Remember Pearl Harbor! And the sacrifices and pain it brought to those who lost loved ones and how it changed families. Remember this throughout each conflict and war, that all our Veterans and their families endure.

The 100/442nd Motto: Go for Broke! In other words, Go all in, When it comes to your beliefs and values. The sacrifices and love for this country the Nisei Soldiers of the 100/442D Regiment Combat Team should inspire us each day to give it our all.

And the Army’s… this we’ll Defend. As Americans, it is our primary purpose of defending the idea of America, grounded in our Constitution, as one. Our Veterans represent this ideal, not just in uniform, but as Americans.

Veterans past and present defend our democracy, freedom, liberty, and hope. And these come at a cost. And those who came before us created and inspired the following generation after them.

Today we celebrate all Veterans, past and present. Many with imprinted wounds from service. Scars from combat they carry and the many sacrifices made throughout the years.  To all Veterans, deepest gratitude, not just for your time in the military, but also for your continued service and leadership in our communities.

your sacrifice and love for this Country set an example and inspire our next great generation.

God Bless organizations, such as the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.

God bless our Veterans.

And God bless America.

Veterans Day Program Remarks

(as prepared)

November 11, 2022

Gerald Yamada, JAVA President

Welcome to the Japanese American Veterans Association's annual Veterans Day program. JAVA is again pleased to have the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation as a co-sponsor.

The theme for this year’s Veterans Day is “Honor.”  What is “honor”? Honor is defined to mean “to treat a person with respect because of who they are or what they have done”. 

On February 9, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took away our honor. By signing Executive Order 9066, he authorized disrespect for Japanese Americans solely because of who they were. Congress supported this presidential order by passing a law making it a criminal offense to violate a military order issued to carry out Executive Order 9066.  The Supreme Court upheld the President’s authority to issue the executive order as a matter of national security.

As a result, Japanese Americans were no longer to be treated as loyal US citizens. Their constitutional rights were denied. They were called “non-aliens.” 

In 1943, military service opened the way to restore our honor.  By the end of World War II, 33,000 Japanese American men and women raised their right hand to swear an oath of allegiance to defend our Nation. They showed great personal courage. They put duty to country first.  They served in Europe, in the Pacific, in military hospitals, and in rebuilding Hawaii.  Their heroic service, in face of overt prejudice, created a legacy that restored honor to all Japanese Americans.

That legacy has been embraced by all 3 branches of the federal government. President Ford revoked Executive Order 9066 in 1976.  In 1988, Congress admitted that the executive order was a “wrong” committed by America. The Supreme Court called it a “morally repugnant order” in a 2018 opinion.

On this Veterans Day and on every day, let us be grateful for the patriotism of the World War II Japanese American soldiers who restored our honor. We thank them for their service and for the legacy they forged for us. We thank all who have served and who are serving for their duty to country and in defending our Nation in the great tradition of the U.S. military.

Veterans Day Program Remarks

(as prepared)

November 11, 2022

Kristine Minami,

Board Member, National American Memorial Foundation

Good afternoon. Happy Veterans Day. My name is Kristine Minami. I bring you greetings and, more importantly, thanks from the Board of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation. I’d also like to thank the Japanese American Veterans Association for all of their work to make this event happen.

The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation is the non-profit organization that worked to create this lovely space more than 20 years ago, building on the legacy of the veterans whose vision this was, and we continue to partner with the National Park Service to ensure that the physical Memorial and all it represents stand strong.

The Memorial stands for patriotism, and that’s why we’re here. To honor patriots, our veterans.

Patriotism takes many forms. The patriots invoked by this memorial are those who, in the words of the late Norman Mineta, “remained steadfast in their faith in our democratic system,” even when our country unjustly incarcerated them. Another type of patriotism is the kind that seeks to right injustice as Ronald Reagan did when he said, “Here we admit a wrong.” Both of these quotes are inscribed on these walls. On this Memorial to patriotism.

We honor that patriotism, as well as the kind of patriotism that leads a person to volunteer to put her or his life on the line for their nation, for ideals. For people they know, and people they don’t. I am in awe of that courage, that dedication. In awe of you who have served.

As a mother, I know I would give my life for my son. In a heartbeat. It might take a few seconds more to decide that about my husband – sorry, honey. But I also know that it takes a special kind of person to put their life on the line for people they don’t know and for people who may not even appreciate them.I think about those who committed themselves to the ultimate form public service and risked -- or maybe even gave -- their lives for me and people like me.

That’s what we honor today. Their courage, their duty. Their honor in service. Today is the only federal holiday that celebrates a group of women and men who are still living. In your honor, we gather across the country today to say thanks.

I myself am not a veteran, and I have to admit that when I was asked to say a few words on behalf of the Foundation, I felt immediately uneasy. A fraud. I suggested that there must be others more qualified than I am to speak here today. I can’t speak from experience as a veteran. I can only speak to my gratitude as an American. And I am grateful.

Many in my family, like so many of you, served in uniform -- or tried to, like my grandfather, who volunteered from camp but was rejected.

Like my older brother, who is a Colonel in the Maryland National Guard and a veteran of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.

Or my younger brother who served in the Air Force.

Or my fellow Memorial Foundation Board Members who have served in military leadership and staff positions around the world.

Or our veterans of WW2 – some of their names are inscribed on this wall -- and other wars who fought for American values at home and abroad. Their service to this country continued well beyond combat, like Terry Shima, whom I’m sure you all know.

Or the millions of men and women who have worn the uniform with pride and served with honor. And those who continue to do so, like our featured speaker.

In this place of quiet dignity here at the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism during World War II, I say thank you to our veterans for their patriotism, for their sacrifice, for their honor, for their love of country. I’m grateful not only to you who have served, but also to those who paved the way for you, and those who follow in your footsteps. Whether or not you know me, you did this for me and my family. Whether or not you hear me, you have my respect, appreciation, and admiration.

Let me close where I began. Thinking about patriotism and honor. As some of you may be aware, there was a national election this week. Millions of Americans exercising their rights. I believe every voter is a patriot. Each time we exercise that right, we honor the legacy of our veterans, who defended the core American values of democracy and freedom. Each time we speak up against injustice to right a wrong, we honor the legacy of our veterans too.

On these walls, there is also a quote from Mike Masaoka, a veteran from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was proud to be an American of Japanese ancestry. He believed in this nation’s institutions, ideals, and traditions. He boasted of our history and trusted our future.

Me too.

I think about the courage of the veterans on whose shoulders we stand and whose legacy of freedom we enjoy and celebrate. And I am grateful. And humbled. And proud.

Thank you. Today and every day we honor you. I wish you all a Happy Veterans Day.

Unsung stories of loyalty come to light in 'Bridge to the Sun'

Bridge to the Sun: The Secret Role of the Japanese Americans Who Fought in the Pacific in World War II, by Bruce Henderson.

Japan Times

November 12, 2022

Reprinted with permission

By Glen S. Fukushima


During World War II, 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry living in the United States — two-thirds of them American citizens — were incarcerated by the U.S. government without due process in internment camps, based on the unwarranted suspicion that they might be loyal to the emperor of Japan and therefore a threat to American national security.

Despite this blatant violation of their constitutional rights, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military to contribute to the war effort and to demonstrate their loyalty to their country.

Most accounts of this war effort by Japanese Americans have focused on those who served in Europe: the 100th Infantry Battalion participated in the liberation of Rome; soldiers of the 522nd had the ironic distinction of helping to liberate Jewish survivors of the Dachau concentration camp while their own relatives were still interned behind barbed wires in their own country; and the 442nd was made famous by such figures as the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who lost his right arm while in combat. President Harry S. Truman met with the 442nd in July 1946 and told them, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice — and you have won.”

In his book “Bridge to the Sun,” author Bruce Henderson provides a valuable addition to the narrative by examining the work of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), the approximately 6,000 Japanese Americans who served in the war in the Pacific. Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, chief of intelligence for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, praised the MIS, saying, “The nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives.”

However, their story has not received the attention it deserves. For one, MIS operations were highly classified and confidential and the participants were sworn to secrecy. For another, few scholars or journalists in either the United States or Japan took notice of the important contribution the MIS made to the American victory in the war against Japan.

Henderson corrects this oversight by producing the first full account of the role of the MIS. He skillfully combines portraits of individual Japanese Americans and their personal history with the larger political events of the 1930s and ’40s. He is especially effective in showing the complexities of the lives of many nisei, some of whom spent their childhood years studying in Japan, thereby gaining the fluency in Japanese that few other Americans could claim. They used their knowledge of the Japanese language, psychology and culture not only to help the United States win the war against Japan, but also to save countless lives in the process.

Considerable attention has been given to Caucasian Americans who studied the Japanese language before and during World War II and subsequently became scholars of Japan such as Donald Keene, Edward Seidensticker and Otis Cary. But scant attention has been paid to the thousands of Japanese Americans who intercepted codes, interrogated prisoners and coaxed soldiers and civilians to surrender rather than be blown up by the hand grenades or incinerated by the flamethrowers that the U.S. military was using to flush out the caves where Japanese were hiding in the Philippines, Okinawa and elsewhere.

According to James McNaughton, author of “Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II,” by the end of the war, the MIS had translated 20.5 million pages and 18,000 enemy documents, created 16,000 propaganda leaflets and interrogated over 10,000 Japanese POWs.

Henderson provides a moving account of how Takejiro Higa, born in Hawaii but partly educated in Okinawa and who served in MIS during the battle of Okinawa in 1945, visited Okinawa in 1995 to attend a 50th anniversary ceremony to honor those who had died in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. An elderly Okinawan woman came up to him to thank him for saving her life. As an MIS soldier in 1945, he had used a loudspeaker to call out, using the Okinawan dialect he had learned as a child, to urge Japanese to come out of their caves. The work that Higa and other MIS soldiers did in Okinawa is credited with saving thousands of lives.

The book could have benefited from better editing to minimize factual and spelling errors. For instance: fish cakes are kamaboko, not kamaboku; Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, not 1932; and Roshiahito should be Roshiajin (Russians).

But these are minor errors. Henderson has done an admirable job of telling the story of Japanese Americans who, despite being suspected of disloyalty, more than proved their allegiance with significant contributions to the American war effort in the Pacific.

Although Henderson’s book focuses on the MIS in World War II, it raises broader issues of nationality, citizenship, language and patriotism. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, some Americans questioned the loyalty of Muslim Americans. And the recent tensions between the United States and China have led some to question the loyalty of Chinese Americans. Yet, the MIS experience shows that for the United States to understand and deal effectively with nations and cultures different from our own, we need to rely on the expertise and insights of loyal Americans who have multicultural experiences, perspectives and expertise.

Finally, I am personally grateful that Henderson has written this book since it helps me to better understand my own family history. My father, Fred Fukushima, never talked about his wartime experience, probably because what he experienced as an MIS soldier in the Philippines and Okinawa was too brutal and horrific to remember or to recount. But his photograph, as a 20-year-old MIS soldier, appears in Henderson’s book with a caption that reads in part, “314th Headquarters MIS team, 96th Division, on Leyte (Philippines), November 1944.”

Henderson has written a valuable book that will inform readers of an important facet of the Japanese American experience but has implications far beyond U.S.-Japan relations to America’s relations more broadly with the non-Western world.

Glen S. Fukushima is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He has also served as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan and China at the Office of the United States Trade Representative and as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is a third-generation Japanese American.


[EdNote: JAVA thanks the Japan Times and Glen S. Fukushima for generously granting us permission to reprint this article.]

AARP Facebook Page Features Former JAVA Executive Director Terry Shima

Buddhahead Breakfast Club Returns to King's Hawaiian Bakery, Torrance, CA

Buddhahead Breakfast Club Returns to King's Hawaiian Bakery, Torrance, CA. Photo: Screenshot.

Robert Horsting

Saddened by only seeing each other at funerals, eight friends started meeting for breakfast once a month. The Buddhahead Breakfast Club has grown to about eighty Vietnam-era veterans and friends. This film marks their return to King's Hawaiian Bakery in Torrance, CA, after a 20-month hiatus due to COVID-19. Watch a short film about the Buddahead Breakfast Club at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stGyZn8nry8.

Video of Guest Speaker Eric Federing Discussing the Legacy of Norman Mineta at the JAVA Fall Luncheon

Eric Federing at the JAVA Fall Luncheon in his remarks on the Legacy of Norm Mineta. Image: Screenshot of video.

If you did not get a chance to attend the Fall Luncheon on October 22, 2022, please be sure to watch a video created by JAVA member Cpl. Ethan Craw, USMC, of former Mineta press secretary, Eric Federing's talk, "The Legacy of Norm Mineta - a View from a Senior Staffer, Later Friend, Later Extended Family."

To watch click this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PPWs2TgjQ33Eq0LdKz3L84FTLqgxYCmH/view.

More Creations From Philatelist Pete Sarmiento!

Pete Sarimento's commemorative envelopes featuring Arboga, Poston and Topaz War Relocation Centers. 

JAVA member Pedro ‘Pete’ Sarmiento is a dedicated philatelist and continues to astound us with his amazing and inventive historical envelope creations centered on postal cancellations and first-day covers. In addition to an envelope commemorating the issuing of the Nisei Stamp on June 3, 2021, he has also memorialized several internment camps. He makes these special envelopes as a hobby and he does not sell them.

Pete served in the United States Air Force in post-war Germany. After his military service, he joined the nascent NASA and started the Laboratory in Spectroanalysis at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. While at Goddard, Pete worked as a spectroscopist and also co-founded NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Stamp Club and designed cachet covers. Over the years, he produced original limited edition commemorative covers for many space and launch events. After 28 years of service for NASA, Pete moved to the Bureau of Engraving, where he worked as a Contracting Officer Technical Representative in charge of the green ink used on the serial number and Federal Seal of the U.S. currency. He retired from the Bureau of Engraving in 1997.

In addition to his envelope endeavors, Pete is an avid stamp collector and is also the lead docent at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., where he has volunteered since August 1981.

JAVA applauds Pete for his public service, curiosity, and creative genius!

Citing Discrepancies between Reported Information and Facts

A 100th Infantry Battalion mortar crew in Montenero, located in the vicinity of Leghorn,  Italy, fired at a house suspected of being occupied by German snipers. Photo: U.S. Signal Corps.

JAVA Research Team

Washington, DC. Our research on Japanese American issues over the past 20 years has raised several factual discrepancies. We are raising these matters in hopes that, if consensus is reached, a consistent account can be uniformly presented.

Inconsistencies for review:

Number of Japanese Americans who served in Europe; overseas with the MIS; and in U.S. uniform in World War II.  While the story of Nisei's service and heroism in World War II may seem familiar to JAVA members, the details of how many served and where remain surprisingly inexact. This is especially true for the number of intelligence specialists who served overseas in the war against Japan. Those numbers range from 1,500 to 7,500. Not all of the 6,000 soldiers who graduated from the MIS Language School were ethnic Japanese – about 1,000 were Caucasian; not all the MISLS graduates went overseas, and there were at least 200 who did not train at the MISLS but were deployed directly from Hawaii. The most refined number, more than 3,300, was developed by the late Roger Eaton who spent seventeen years gathering names and information about World War II AJAs. Eaton’s father-in-law, George Ryoji Yamada of Elk Grove, CA, served with the 442nd RCT’s 232nd Engineer Company and inspired Eaton to get involved upon his retirement. About 2003, Eaton joined Jim Yamashita, another veteran, who was constructing Echoes of Silence, a directory of all AJAs who served in the armed forces during WW 11. Together, Eaton and Yamashita completed the listing of over 20,000 names. Midway through Echoes of Silence, Roger began collecting obituaries from Japanese American publications to include pertinent data in Echoes of Silence. More recently Bridge to the Sun author Bruce Henderson asked for the number of Nisei who served in MIS overseas during WW II. Roger, despite ailing and spending lots of time in the hospital due to neurological decline, compiled a list of some 3,300 names. Roger cautioned the list needs to be edited and corrected for accuracy.

A complicating factor is the lack of distinction between those who deployed overseas during the war and those who deployed to Japan after Sept. 2, 1945, for occupation duty.  It is also unclear how the abrupt end of the war in Europe and then the Pacific affected the figures. For example, several hundred AJA draftees were preparing for shipment to Europe as replacements for the 442nd when Germany surrendered in May 1945.  A number of those draftees were sent to the MIS Language School (MISLS) and ultimately to Japan for occupation duty.

In some accounts, the number of Nisei who served with the 100th Battalion and 442nd RCT has been estimated at 14,000. However, Hawaii researcher Isami Yoshihara notes that Echoes of Silence, former 442nd G-2 Maj Orville C. Shirey, and the 442nd Sons and Daughters website all show a total of nearly 10,000. That, Yoshihara says, “appears to be a more accurate figure than 14,000. JRT agrees with Yoshihara.

The total number of ethnic Japanese who served America in World War II has been given as various figures between 20,000 and 33,000. The lower figures were reported when the war ended. For example, in order to combat a spike in anti-Japanese racism on the West Coast, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in January 1946 (Pacific Citizen Jan 12, 1946) announced that 22,532 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. Army in World War II. But World War II did not formally end until December 31, 1946, by residential order, and the number of Nisei in service would have grown as the selective service draft continued after the war.  In recent years, the Army seems to have settled on 33,000 as the number of Japanese Americans who served in World War II, but that figure includes people who were inducted after Sept 2, 1945. JAVA uses 31,000, the number used by WRA.

442nd RCT, including 100th BN, Casualty List. Books and articles have reported 9,486 Purple Heart Medals were awarded to Nisei wounded in combat (WIA) and killed in combat (KIA). Major Shirey, G-2 of the 442nd RCT, in his 1946 book AMERICANS: The Story of the 442d Combat Team, which is based on official 442nd records, while knowing the correct RCT count as 650 dead and 3,436 wounded in combat (page 93) listed 2,490 casualties on his chart (page 101) probably because it was the official 442nd record at that time.   Lt Thomas Kobayashi, Regimental Adjutant, wrote a footnote to Shirey’s 2,490 Purple Heart number by saying “The correct figure for the total number of Purple Heart awards should be approximately 3,600.” Kobayashi should have used the 442nd official numbers (page 93): ” 650 dead and 3,436  wounded or 4,086 Purple Heart medals. Yoshihara said “In summary, the correct number is over 4,000 Purple Hearts. The incorrect 9,486 number included over 5,000 non-battle casualties, which do not qualify for the Purple Heart.” JRT concurs. 

Number of 442nd RCT, including 100th BN, lost to save the trapped Texans of the 1st Bn, 141st Infantry.  Written and oral reports have alleged that the 442nd sustained over 700 casualties to save 211 Texans trapped by the Germans in the Vosges forest, located in eastern France, in late October 1944. Nearly 300 men of the 1st Bn, 141st Regiment, 36th Division, acting on Division Commander MG John E. Dahlquist’s orders, were trapped by the Germans on October 24, 1944. Other elements of the 141st tried for two days to extricate the trapped men, without success. The 442nd had a day of respite after leading the division’s breakthrough at Bruyeres and more than a week of heavy combat. When the 141st failed to free its trapped battalion, however, Dahlquist on October 26 withdrew them and ordered the 442nd back to the Vosges forest to save the trapped Texans. (NOTE: By that point of the war, few original members of the 141st were still with the unit. Most of the trapped men were NOT Texans. Acting commander Lt Marty Higgins was from New Jersey, for example.) The 442nd battled German elite troops for the next five days. Fighting in the thick, dark forest was fierce, including fixed bayonets and banzai charges. On October 30th, 211 Texans walked out. No celebration occurred. The 442nd was ordered to pursue the retreating Germans into St. Die, the gateway to Germany. The captured German commander revealed under interrogation Hitler had ordered to kill all of the Japanese Americans. 442nd veteran and historian Jim Yamashita’s casualty report, documented by names obtained from morning reports, listed Nisei casualties as 54 killed and 293 wounded in combat for the five-day rescue effort. Estimates that the 442nd lost 700 to more than 800 killed and wounded to rescue the “lost battalion” – three to four times the number of GIs they rescued - - are erroneous. Those errant figures include all of the combat team’s casualties from October 15, when it began its campaign in the Rhineland with the attack on Bruyeres. 

The rescue also saved Dahlquist’s career; he ultimately gained his fourth star. In the eyes of fellow American soldiers and officers, this rescue operation confirmed Nisei loyalty and courage and supported ethnic Japanese return to their homes in the Pacific coast locations. The month-long Vosges campaign cost the 442nd nearly half of its 4,000 men. One hundred forty had been killed and another 1,800 were in hospitals with wounds and illness, by some accounts.

Imperial Japanese Navy "Z" Plan to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Publications have reported that the Imperial Japanese Navy “Z” plan to annihilate the US Navy in the Pacific was copied by the Americans and the original was returned to the Japanese. In reality, the document was not returned. On March 31, 1944, Admiral Mineichi Koga, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, and his vice commander, Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome departed Palau in separate planes for their new headquarters in Davao, Mindanao, Philippines. They hit a huge tropical storm near Cebu, Philippines, that resulted in the disappearance of Koga’s plane. Koga and other passengers were declared dead.   

Fukudome’s plane ditched in the sea near Cebu city. Fukudome and 13 naval headquarters personnel were rescued by Cebu villagers, turned over to Filipino guerrillas, who escorted them to the U.S. Army stay-behind contingent, led by LTC John M.  Cushing, located secretly in the Cebu forests.  Cebuanos also turned over Japanese naval documents, including the Imperial Navy Z Plan to defeat the US Pacific Fleet in a decisive battle near the Philippines. Fukudome told his naval colleagues the Z plan sank with his plane and the Japanese followed the Z Plan in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which eliminated Japan’s carrier fleet and naval air arm as offensive weapons.  

Aerial ambush of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. It has been reported incorrectly that an MIS linguist translated a Japanese Navy telegram that resulted in the shoot-down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plane in the Solomons Islands area. On April 13, 1943, Yamamoto, commander in chief of Imperial Japanese Naval Forces in the Pacific, visited Rabaul on New Britain Island and decided to make a morale-boosting visit to units in the Solomon Islands area. A detailed itinerary was sent by radio to units he planned to visit. This message was intercepted and decoded by American units at several locations and sent to naval commanders in the Pacific.  A proposal to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane was approved and preparations began.

Meanwhile, BG Ennis Whitehead, deputy commander of the 5th AF and commander of the 138th Signal Radio Intercept Company, both located at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, received a similar message intercepted by his unit.   Whitehead asked ATIS for language support and a Nisei linguist was sent on TDY.  By this time planning for the shoot-down was well underway and did not involve the 5th AF at Port Moresby. BG Whitehead’s son and grandson, both USAF general officers, were contacted, Air Force records were checked and independent research was conducted to ascertain BG Whitehead’s involvement. The results of the checks were negative. 

Nisei Linguists Did Not Serve in the Battle of Midway. Some accounts of MIS exploits have erroneously stated Nisei linguists participated in the earlier naval intelligence coup that resulted in the U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway earlier in the war. (Nisei linguists did not participate in the Midway radio intercepts and cryptanalysis. At that point in the war, with few exceptions, the U.S. Navy refused to have anything to do with Japanese Americans. That position softened later as the Navy and Marines borrowed hundreds of AJAs from the Army. The sea services did not enlist AJAs until after World War II.

[JRT appreciates the editorial contribution made by Mark Matsunaga, MIS Veterans Hawaii Historian, retired Honolulu journalist, and son of an MIS veteran. We also thank Researcher Isami Yoshihara, brother of an original 100th Bn soldier, for his contribution.] 

JAVA Members Meet 



JAVA historian Jeff Morita and former JAVA Executive Committee member Rod Azama got together to "talk story" at Zippy's in Mililani, HI! Photo: Courtesy of Rod Azama.

VA integrates the “White House VA Hotline” into its “front door” toll-free number: 1-800-MyVA411 is never the wrong number

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On November 3rd, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) successfully integrated the White House VA Hotline with VA’s main call center (1-800-MyVA411)—making it easier for Veterans and their families to get information, access earned VA benefits and services, and raise concerns using one phone number. To ensure a seamless transition for Veterans and their families, the White House VA Hotline number now automatically redirects to 1-800-MyVA411.

This integration improves VA’s customer service and underlines the importance VA places on addressing customers’ concerns. The purpose of the White House VA Hotline had been to provide Veterans and their families with an outlet to share concerns and recommendations with VA. Those concerns can now be shared through VA’s primary call center, rather than a separate hotline. 1-800-MyVA411 has historically received three times the call volume compared to the WH hotline, so this integration will greatly increase awareness of the option to share concerns with live agents 365 days, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This integration also simplifies customer access to VA as the Department implements the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. As part of both this integration and the PACT Act, VA is increasing staffing to reduce wait times and to improve customer experience when calling MyVA411.

Callers to 1-800-MyVA411 can now press the new “Option 9” to connect directly with a VA service recovery specialist—the same experts that have staffed the hotline—

to share concerns, make recommendations, or ask a question. The caller will be routed to the appropriate subject matter expert within VA or receive a case number and updates throughout the concern resolution process.

1-800-MyVA411 was established in 2020 in response to customer feedback that VA had too many phone numbers. Moving forward, 1-800MyVA411 will be shared as VA’s “front door:” the one number all Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors may use to access VA resources.

For more information contact, vets-experience@va.gov

Happy Birthday

United States Marine Corps!

"The 247th Marine Corps Birthday Message"

On November 10, 2022, U.S. Marines around the globe will celebrate 247 years of success on the Battlefields and a legacy defined by honor, courage and community. This year, the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy E. Black, reiterated to the force that the Marines are warfighters first and foremost in any time and place. Drawing on the strength and service of those who wore the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in years past, Marines today are standing ready to fight and win. (U.S. Marine Corps video by SSgt John Martinez and SSgt Aaron Patterson) Image: Screenshot of video. 

Watch a video honoring the USMC 247th birthday at this link: https://www.cmc.marines.mil/Birthday/. 

[EdNote: JAVA thanks CPT Wade Ishimoto, USA (Ret), for passing along this news item.]

JAVA Annual Fundraiser


The Japanese American Veterans Association has just launched its 2022 Fundraiser.  As you may know, JAVA still assesses no membership dues.  JAVA funds its programs and operations from investment revenue and donations -- 100% of all donations will be used to support JAVA programs.

In 2022, our programs continued to recognize the contributions made by all who have or are serving in the U.S. armed forces; to honor the legacy forged by the valor and patriotism of Japanese American men and women who served in the United States military during World War II; to advocate in support of all American veterans, and, to improve our operations

Thank you!

Ways You Can Donate

  1. Click the donate button below.
  2. JAVA website at https://java-us.org and clicking on the “Donate to JAVA” tab. 
Check made payable to “JAVA,” send to JAVA, P.O. Box 341198, Bethesda, MD 20827.  Please write “donation” and the name of the program on the memo line. 

Mark Your Calendar!

General Membership Meeting

February 4, 2023

Saturday, February 4, 2023, from 3:00 pm EST/ 12:00 pm PST / 10:00 am HST

JAVA's General Membership Meeting will be held virtually on Microsoft Teams. All are welcome to attend. The main focus of the annual meeting will be discussing JAVA’s future direction. Howard High, JAVA Vice President and Chair of JAVA’s Strategic Planning Committee, will lead the discussion on organizing the committee’s work. Also at the meeting, Gerald Yamada will review JAVA initiatives, JAVA Committees will report on activities and the 2023 JAVA Awards will be presented. The meeting will take place on Saturday, February 4, 2023, from 3:00 pm EST/ 12:00 pm PST / 10:00 am HST.

The meeting will be posted on Eventbrite and an email notification will be sent to all JAVA members and Friends of JAVA in January to RSVPs. JAVA Vice President Howard High will send all who RSVP a link to join the meeting. More information to follow in the January e-Advocate

"The French Never Forget”

 2022 Annual Bruyères Liberation Commemoration Ceremony

The photographs below of 2022 Annual Bruyères Liberation Commemoration Ceremony were share by Mr. Guillaume Maman, France's Honorary Consul in Hawaii. 

[EdNote: JAVA thanks Jeff Morita for passing along these photos.]


Kankichi Albert Nakama Laid to Rest with Military Honors

 A beautiful trade-wind morning in Kaneohe and a ceremony befitting a World War II Nisei hero.

Panoramic of Burial Service for Kankichi Albert Nakama, November 1, 2022. Photo: Jeff Morita.

Kankichi Albert Nakama of Kailua, Hawaii passed away on Saturday, September 24, 2022, at the age of 99 and was laid to rest on November 1, 2022, in Kaneohe. 

Mr. Nakama was awarded French National Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre national de la Légion d'Honneur), the highest order for military and civil merits established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. Morita assisted with the paperwork and below is his write-up of the award which appeared in the July 2, 2020 e-Advocate.  

Technical Sergeant (T/Sgt) Nakama was an Assault Rifle Noncommissioned Officer and was assigned to L "Love" Company, 3rd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  He planned and executed combat patrols, set up defensive positions, and oversaw the never-ending digging of foxholes for personal cover.  T/Sgt Nakama vividly recalled, "the Vosges Mountains was really cold — you know, like the Pali (Highway) coming from Honolulu... a lot of wooded areas — that's the kind of place the Vosges Mountains was — freezing, close fighting in the mountains — hard because of trees and treacherous terrain but good that you could hide — many times we were cold, sleepy, tired and hungry — we only had our C rations — sitting and waiting in foxholes, when told to go, YOU GO..!"  Nakama served courageously and gallantly in the Rome-Arno; Northern Apennines; (France) Rhineland-Vosges and Rhineland-Maritime Alps, and Po Valley Allied Offensive Campaigns.  He personally contributed to the liberation of Northeastern France including the villages of Bruyères, Belmont-Biffontaine, and the epic rescue of the lost ‘Texas’ battalion in the Vosges  Mountains.  For his honorable service, T/Sgt Nakama received the US Congressional Gold Medal; Bronze Star Medal with Bronze Valor "V" Device for heroic achievement in action near Pisa, Italy, and two Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster (signifying a third award); Purple Heart Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four (4) Bronze Campaign/Battle Stars; Distinguished Unit Badge (now known as the Presidential Unit Citation [PUC]) with one (1) Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster (2nd award); World War II Victory Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB); Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II; and Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.  On June 18, 2020, Mr. Nakama and his Family received the French Chevalier (Knight) Medal. 


[EdNote: JAVA sends its condolences to the Nakama family. We also thank Jeff Morita for his assistance with the photos and article.]

Military Honors at Burial Service for Kankichi Albert Nakama, November 1, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Nakama Family.

Military Honors at Burial Service for Kankichi Albert Nakama, November 1, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Nakama Family.

Floral and Photo Memorial Tribute at Burial Service for Kankichi Albert Nakama, November 1, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Nakama Family.


Hiroshi ‘Johnny’ Okura, artist who served with storied Japanese American WWII combat team, dead at 100

Its segregated soldiers served in “the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military,” according to the National WWII Museum. In 2010, Congress recognized the 442nd by awarding its men the Congressional Gold Medal.

Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura. Photo: Provided.

Reprinted with Permission Courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times

November 11, 2022

By Maureen O’Donnell

When French Consul General Yannick Tagand arrived in Rogers Park at the home of Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura, he found the World War II veteran confined to bed.

Tagand had come that day in October 2021 to present Mr. Okura with France’s Legion of Honor, the nation’s highest accolade.

“These ceremonies are very moving,” the consul general said, “honoring someone who has dedicated his youth to fighting for the French ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité.” 

“It’s what I had to do,” Mr. Okura told him.

“I offered him a bottle of French champagne,” Tagand said, “and he got a glass.”

“They came with flags, and they played the French anthem and presented the medal to him,” Mr. Okura’s son Terry Okura said, “and then opened a bottle of champagne, and we all drank.”

Mr. Okura, who was 100 years old when he died in August, was one of a dwindling number of members of the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese American GIs who served in what the National WWII Museum calls “the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military.”

Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura wearing the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration, which he received from French Consul General Yannick Tagand. Photo: Provided

President Harry S. Truman saluted its soldiers after the war, telling them: “You fought not only the enemy but prejudice, and you won.”

In 2010, Congress recognized the 442nd by awarding its men the Congressional Gold Medal.

Mr. Okura served as a field lineman in France, Italy and Germany with the combat team’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, laying wires so soldiers could communicate in battle. He also scouted “for enemy activity and targets in advance of assault infantry,” according to Jeff Morita, a retired Army sergeant and member of the Japanese American Veterans Association.

The 522nd “helped cross the Rhine River into Germany,” Morita said. “The 522nd was the only Nisei” — the first generation of Japanese descent born in the United States — “unit to have fought on German soil,” Morita said.

Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura served with the storied 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. Photo: Provided.

Mr. Okura was wounded in battle, struck by shrapnel near the German-held town of Bruyères in France.

Another time, he got mad at a foxhole mate who made a sarcastic comment about the artillery. When he stood to argue, “A German sniper’s bullet buzzed by Pvt. Okura’s helmet and right ear,” Morita said in documents he filed with the French government to help Mr. Okura receive the Legion of Honor.

“The French never forget what the Nisei did,” he said. “They were helping to liberate the country.”

The 442nd also helped rescue the “Lost Battalion.” The Nisei soldiers suffered heavy casualties as they succeeded in liberating about 200 soldiers from a Texas National Guard unit surrounded by German forces in the Vosges Forest of France.

Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura (left) with fellow soldiers training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. Photo: Provided.

Mr. Okura always kept a cool head, his family said — even as he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

He grew up in Honomu on the “Big Island” of Hawaii in a family of four brothers and two sisters. His parents Miyo and Kanta Okura were from Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

After graduating in 1940 from Hilo High School, he moved to the island of Oahu, where he worked construction at Pearl Harbor. He wanted to get away from the back-breaking, low-paying work he’d been doing on sugar cane and pineapple plantations.

“He called it slave labor,” his son said.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Okura “remembered a plane flying over and dropping a bomb, and he ran and ducked under a truck,” his son said. “The next day, when they came back to work, all the Japanese were rounded up at gunpoint by MPs and escorted to the gate of the base and told to run. They took off running. I think they [the MPs] were afraid and suspicious.”

“My grandfather thought he was going to be shot,” his granddaughter Lauren Okura said.

He decided to enlist because “he didn’t see a future in Hawaii,” his son said. “The service was his way out.” Young “Johnny” trained at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. “He said it was terrible how they treated the Black people down there.”

In Italy, “They bivouacked around the Coliseum, so, when my dad saw pictures of the Coliseum, he said, ‘I christened that,’ ” his son said. “He said every time they came to a new town in Italy, the first words out of their mouth were: ‘Dov’è il vino,’ meaning, ‘Where’s the wine?’ ”

Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura (left) and friend visiting Chicago while on furlough. Photo: Provided.

After the war, he married Toshiko “Daisy” Tomiyama, who was born on a sugar plantation on the island of Hawaii. They moved to Chicago, which Mr. Okura had enjoyed visiting while on furlough.

Hiroshi and Toshiko “Daisy” Okura on their wedding day. Photo: Provided.

Mr. Okura used the GI Bill to study art at the Ray-Vogue School, became a commercial artist and worked in advertising and production for companies including Leo Burnett and Ficho & Corley.

His wife was a founder of a performing troupe, the Na Kupuna Ukelele Club of Chicago, for which he lent a hand.

“My grandpa did all the artwork,” Lauren Okura said. “He hand-drew a lot of the signs and decorations they would put up at their events.”

Hiroshi and Daisy Okura at Brookfield Zoo with their sons Gerald (left) and Terry. Photo: Provided.

Another son, Gerald, developed kidney trouble as a result of a childhood bout with strep throat. In 1969, Mr. Okura donated a kidney to his then-20-year-old son.

“That was a big event in all our lives,” Terry Okura said. “In 1969, the transplants were fairly new.” 

The Legion of Honor medal awarded to Hiroshi “Johnny” Okura. Photo: Provided. 

Gerald Okura lived nearly 30 more years. He died in 1997 at 46.

Mr. Okura was impatient around complainers.

“He’d say, ‘If you don’t like it, do something about it,’ ” his son said. “He didn’t like Hawaii — so he joined the Army. After that, he didn’t want to go back to Hawaii — so he moved to Chicago.”

Mr. Okura taught his grandchildren to play card games with Hanafuda — Japanese “flower cards” depicting different seasons and flowers. He used to try his luck at the Rivers Casino and at the racetrack. Mr. Okura also enjoyed visiting a newsstand where the vendor doubled as a bookie.

“The motto of the 442nd was ‘Go for broke,’ ” his son said. “The good thing is he never went broke.”

Mr. Okura liked room-temperature beer and fishing for panfish like perch, crappie and bluegill.

His wife died in 2016. In addition to his son Terry and granddaughter Lauren, he is survived by another granddaughter, Lynn Okura Bey, and four great-grandchildren.

Mr. Okura didn’t want a funeral service, but his family — using a phrase often heard in Hawaii — said they’ll remember him when they get together and “talk story.”


[EdNote: JAVA sends its deepest sympathies to the Okura family. We very much appreciate the Chicago Sun-Times and Maureen O’Donnell for allowing us to reprint Mr. Okura’s obituary.]

Questions or Suggestions: Please contact Neet Ford at javapotomac@gmail.com.

Japanese American Veterans Association:  Address: P.O. Box 341198, Bethesda, MD 20827 I www.java-us.org.