Japanese American Veterans Association


Vol 1 No. 8, September 23, 2019 

One of Last Surviving Nisei WAC Chito Isonaga Honored in Kauai

Chito Isonaga, center, reacts Thursday after being presented four medals by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, left, while Mayor Derek S.K.Kawakami declares Aug. 29 as Chito Isonaga Day during a gathering at the Regency at Puakea in Puhi. Photo: Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

Dennis Fujimoto, The Garden Island Newspaper

Lihue Kauai.  “Oh, no,” the 103-year-old matriarch kept repeating as U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono placed four medals in Isonaga’s hands, pausing to describe each medal, and Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami declared Aug. 29 as Chito Isonaga Day in honor of her contribution, service and sacrifice to the country throughout her military career, and her long life.

Isonaga, who will turn 104 in October, was born in 1915 in Koloa to her parents, Tokuichi and Kazuyo Isonaga, immigrants from Japan. She attended Koloa School, Kauai High School, and Japanese-language school. Following her graduation from Kauai High School in 1933, Isonaga went to Japan and studied the Japanese language for six years, in Hiroshima.

Following her graduation from Hiroshima Jogakuin, a Christian women’s university, Isonaga returned to Kauai, where she started working for KTOH radio station, writing advertisements and news, and announcing music — all in Japanese. She also clerked at the Kauai Police Department, and was an interpreter at the courthouse.

It was during this time, Isonaga was called on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to interpret and translate documents.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Isonaga was in church when she learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This led her to join the effort by helping at the Emergency Service Committee’s Morale Division.

World War II started and Isonaga was recruited at the Office of Censorship in Honolulu to look for compromising passages in letters sent to Japanese internees on the mainland.

In 1944, Isonaga volunteered for the Women’s Army Corps, and was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., for basic training. Her military career took her to Washington, D.C., then to Military Intelligence Service Language School in Fort Snelling, Minn.

When the war ended in 1945, Isonaga was sent to Japan as part of the occupation forces. Gen. Douglas MacArthur discharged the WACs soon after her arrival in Japan, and Isonaga was given a choice to return or to stay as a civilian worker.

Isonaga chose to stay and help her family from Hiroshima, which had survived the atomic bomb. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Isonaga worked for the Central Intelligence Agency during its post-war effort, returning to Hawaii in 1975.

Hirono presented Isonaga with the Good Conduct Medal for three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful” service. The American Campaign Medal for service in the American Campaign Theater of Operations during World War II, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal is for service in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater between 1941 to 1945, and The World War II Victory Medal is for service between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946.

[EdNote.  Reprint approved by Dennis Fujimoto of Garden Island Newspaper.  Jeff Morita, who obtains French Legion d’Honneur nominations and requests US military personnel data as a public service, assisted by Mae, Chito’s niece, obtained Chito’s data and medals from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC).  Marking his request EXPEDITE due to Chito’s advanced age, NPRC acted promptly with replacement World War II military awards and decorations and also notified Hawaii US Senator Mazie Hirono, who made the presentation.]

Once Lost, Internment Camp In Hawaii Now A National Monument

Hawaii's Honouliuli Internment Camp held thousands of prisoners of war and hundreds of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. Photo: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

Courtesy of NPR Hawaii

Molly Solomon (March 16, 2015)

The Honouliuli internment camp, not far from Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, held as many as 4,000 prisoners during World War II, including hundreds of Japanese-Americans.

In February, President Obama named the location a national monument.

The camp became known by prisoners as "jigokudani," or "Hell's Valley," says Carole Hayashino, the president of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

"There are many stories — families were visiting their family members interned, they would be blindfolded and they board a bus in downtown Honolulu," she says. "And then they would be driven into the gulch. They had no idea where they were going."

An old aqueduct cuts across the camp, which is now overgrown with weeds and brush.

Thick brush and overgrown trees now cover the 160 acres that were once Honouliuli. The site remained hidden from view for decades after the war. It was rediscovered in 2002 by volunteers at the Japanese Cultural Center, who traced an aqueduct in the background of an old photograph, Hayashino says.

An old aqueduct cuts across the camp, which is now overgrown with weeds and brush. Photo: Molly Solomon.

"The internees didn't talk about it, the pain was so deep," she says. "They didn't share their own camp experience with their families. We almost lost this history."

In an oral history interview collected by the cultural center, Harry Urata recalled the morning Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was a boarding school student at the time.

"I still remember that morning: 7:50 a.m., I was at dormitory. All of a sudden, music stop — Hawaiian music," he recalled. "Announcer came out again: 'This is war. Entire Hawaiian island under enemy attack.' "

Urata, who died in 2009, was born in the U.S. but educated in Japan. In the interview, he said FBI agents showed up at his civics class to take him to Honouliuli, where he was imprisoned for more than a year.

"How come I gotta stay inside here, although I am American citizen?" he recalled wondering. "We are there under suspicion. They just suspect us."

Unlike the internment camps on the mainland, the wartime incarceration of Japanese in Hawaii was done on a much smaller scale.

Those targeted were religious leaders, local business owners and people like Urata, who went to school in Japan

Removing that leadership had a huge impact, says Hayashino of the Japanese Cultural Center.

"You're leaving an entire community leaderless," she says. "It's selective, yet it's very strategic."

Creating a national monument at Honouliuli is a strategy of a different kind: keeping memory alive, says Paul DePrey of the National Park Service, which is creating a plan for Honouliuli.

"That's why we need to protect and preserve sites like this," he says, "because if we don't, it will be forgotten."

Story and audio segment can be found at: 

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/03/16/393284680/in-hawaii-a-wwii-internment-camp-named-national-monument (March 16, 2015)

Other NPR stories and audio segments on Honouliuli by Molly Solomon can be found at:

https://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/post/obama-declares-oahu-internment-camp-national-monument (February 18, 2015)

https://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/post/honouliuli-internment-camp-dedicated-national-monument#stream/0 (April 1, 2015)

[Ednote.  The article was provided by Wade Ishimoto and Bill Dorman, VP, News Director, Hawaii Public Radio, approved reprint and offered the use of additional links.]

Japan Chorus Group Makes Goodwill Visit to Nation’s Capital

Part of the Imaoikiruhito Resonance Harmony  singers.  Photo:Embassy of Japan.

Washington, DC.   A fifty-five member Japanese chorus group, Ima o Ikiru Hito Resonance Harmony, visited Washington, DC during the week of September 9, 2019 “to strengthen friendship with Americans, especially Japanese Americans.”  During their brief stay, the group held two musical performances and smaller events including singing in the Union Station Grand Foyer and listening to three Japanese Americans discuss their experience during and after WW II.  The programs were sponsored by the Embassy of Japan and arranged by Minister Kenichiro Mukai, Head of Chancery, and his wife, Midori.  The visiting group was made up of residents from Tokyo, Kanagawa and Okinawa prefectures, Osaka and New York.

The Harmony group’s first event was at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Temple Visitors’ Center, located at Kensington, MD, on September 11 for the residents of the Washington, DC area.  As JAVA President Gerald Yamada noted “the evening started on a note of friendship by the chorus group singing the Japanese national anthem in Japanese and then singing the US national anthem in English while the audience stood at attention.”  Ryo Yanagitani, a world-renown classical pianist of the Ryuji Ueno Foundation, also performed at this event.  Minister Kazutoshi Aikawa, the Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, officiated the event on behalf of Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama, who had an out-of-town commitment, expressed the goal of uniting people through music and dedicated the evening to “commemorate the 18th anniversary of 9/11.”

The second event was held during the afternoon of September 12 in the large, elegant reception hall of Ambassador’s Residence where the Harmony group listened to Japanese American speakers.  Mary Murakami described her internment camp experience at Topaz internment center.  Terry Shima, 442nd veteran, discussed the Nisei who served in combat in Europe and in combat intelligence assignments in the Asia Pacific region.   Shirley Ann Higuchi, Chairman, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF), discussed the Foundation’s goals and activities to preserve the story of unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese Americans.  Following the formal presentations, Minister Mukai, Moderator, inspired a lengthy Q and A session, a testimony of the visitors desire to learn about their diaspora counterparts.  Noriko Sanefuji, museum specialist at Smithsonian American History Museum, served as the interpreter.

At the third major event held the evening of September 12 at the Residence, the Harmony group sang what Minister Mukai described as “songs of respect and gratitude for the Nikkei population."  Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell, welcomed the Harmony singers to the nation’s capital and complimented them on their mission of goodwill.  Representing the Nikkei community, David Inoue, Executive Director of JACL, expressed warm appreciation to Ambassador Sugiyama, Deputy Chief of Mission Aikawa, Minister and Mrs. Mukai, other government personnel, and leaders and members of the Nikkei organizations for strengthening the friendship between the government and people of Japan and the Nikkei people.  Inoue also thanked the Ima o ikiru hito Resonance Harmony delegation for making the long trip, enduring typhoon, to accomplish their goal of bringing people together through music. He also thanked the Nikkei speakers for sharing their stories with the visitors at the event earlier that afternoon.  Inoue ended his remarks with “now I join you all in looking forward to hearing the chorus bringing us all together with beautiful music.”  In addition to Inoue and Yamada, other leaders of Nikkei organizations in the WDC area invited to this event were  Laura Winthrop Abbot, Executive Vice President of the US - Japan Council; Larry Oda, Chairman of the Board of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation; and Higuchi, Chair, HMWF.

Following the visit, other Nikkei community leaders shared their views with e-Advocate.   Abbot said, "The Chorus Group visit to the United States was a wonderful window into Japanese culture for all to hear them perform. We enjoyed meeting the group and witnessing the discussion with Japanese Americans, who shared their history and how they approach both their Japanese and American identity. It is our hope that this kind of dialogue about Japanese Americans can be continued in Japan after the group returns as well."   Oda remarked, “the music was uplifting and heartwarming.  I found their Twitter page and watched the video of their performance because the melody and harmony are a joy to hear.”  Higuchi commented, “we appreciate the opportunity to share the Japanese American story with the people of Japan.   Part of our mission is to increase the awareness of the incarceration in the home country of our ancestors, and the choir's visit here opened their eyes and mine."  At the Ambassador’s reception, Higuchi was invited to present the toast to celebrate the successful visit by the Ima o Ikiru Hito Resonance Harmony. The Embassy of Japan has created a homepage at Facebook.   Photos and performances may be accessed at the following address:  https://m.facebook.com/107941727264737.  

Questions or Suggestions: Please contact Neet Ford, JAVA e-Advocate Editor, at javapotomac@gmail.com.

Japanese American Veterans Association: (202) 494-1978, Address: P.O. Box 341198, Bethesda, MD 20827 I https://java.wildapricot.org 

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