While in Los Angeles last week, I visited the Japanese American National Museum, something I’ve wanted to do since beginning to write The Red Kimono.
|Japanese American National Museum|
Before going inside, we walked around taking pictures. Thankfully, we noticed a sign that said “Go For Broke,” with an arrow pointing away from the museum. Knowing my Uncle Yoshio served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, (Uncle Yoshio’s Honor) I wanted to see the memorial. So we turned in the direction of the arrow and headed about a block away, toward a large, black semi-circle monument.
On the front of that monument, the first thing I read was what President Truman said to the Japanese-American veterans upon their return from war:
The curved back of the monument is covered with over 16,000 Japanese-Americans who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the lesser-known Military Intelligence Service.
As I searched through the names for my uncle’s, a Japanese man approached me and asked if he could help. He gave us a brief history of the monument and pointed me in the direction of a computer that would help me locate Uncle Yoshio’s name.
Then, I found it.
I stared at his name, Yoshio Sasaki, thinking about what it must have been like to fight for a country that had “relocated” his family (my mother included) to internment camps surrounded by barbed wire.
Following is an excerpt from an article in the November 2, 2011 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:
While undergoing training, Susumu Ito would visit his parents and two sisters 200 miles away at the Rohwer Internment Camp in Arkansas. Despite the injustice of being forced to relocate from Stockton, Calif., Ito said, his parents took great pride in their son fighting for the U.S. military. However, he ignored his mother’s request in her weekly letters to avoid hazardous duty. He said he wanted to be on the front lines, as did his peers. The motto of the 442nd was “go for broke.”
After reflecting at the site of the monument, we went into the Japanese American National Museum. There, I came upon a barrack that had been relocated to the museum. I stared through gaps and knotholes in the boards that left little privacy for the families that had lived in the tiny, primitive spaces. I imagined my mother as an eight-year old, peeking through those spaces as she searched for any source of entertainment. Then, I imagined her mother scolding her, trying to explain that each family deserved privacy.
As we walked around looking at fascinating memorabilia, an elderly Japanese man approached us. He introduced himself as Frank Omatsu, and asked if we’d be interested in hearing more about the displays.
Mr. Omatsu told us he had been in the Military Intelligence Service and had served in Burma, translating and interrogating. His family had been interned in Arkansas, where my character, Sachi, and her family were interned. (Click here for a blog on Rohwer, Arkansas.) I had not heard of the Military Intelligence Service before then, and was fascinated by his story. I imagined what it must have been like to interrogate “the enemy” while his family at home was considered “the enemy.”
Mr. Omatsu told me other things I had not known before: that the 442nd rescued the Lost Battalion, suffering over 1,000 casualties (200+ dead, 800+ injured) to rescue 216 men trapped behind German lines; that attachments to the 442nd liberated several of the concentration camps near Dachau; that over 300 Nisei (second generation) women served in the Women’s Army Corp.
How lucky we were to be approached by this proud and humble man who so generously shared the history of this time with us. I have done much research in writing The Red Kimono, but reading words does not compare to hearing stories in the voices of those who experienced history.
|Mr. Frank Omatsu|
Yesterday, November 2, 2011, Congress held a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony to honor the Japanese American veterans of World War II. At last, the men who fought not only the enemy, but prejudice, have been honored.