ONTARIO — As Rev. Tim Brewer led an invocation at the local reception for the unveiling of the new U.S. Postal Service commemorative “Go For Broke” stamp on June 14, the pastor of the Ontario Nazarene Church acknowledged that the day may have come with mixed emotions for some. The Forever Stamp commemorates the tens of thousands of second-generation Japanese Americans, also known as Nisei, who served in various branches of the United States military in World War II, including the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion — a segregated Japanese American unit — and the Military Intelligent Service. While the Nisei fought in the war for the U.S., many of their families were incarcerated in internment camps, as a result of Executive Order 9066, which U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941.
There are only about four remaining Nisei Veterans still living in the Western Treasure, according to Cathy Yasuda, of Ontario, whose father served in the 442nd.
She worked with Mike Iseri, of Ontario, in contacting those service members and their families to invite them to the event.
Tom Murata was unable to attend the unveiling ceremony at Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario on Monday evening; however, Jim Mizuta, Tom Kamimae and Terou Yano were there, and received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 100 people.
Andrew Maeda, of Ontario, was among the speakers, and said that until he was invited by Rev. Tom Greco to conduct a speech at the unveiling, he was greatly unaware of the sacrifices that had been made by his grandfather and fellow comrades-in-arms.
Upon learning, Maeda said he at first was embarrassed that he didn’t realize the impact of the history, but that feeling was soon replaced with one of pride for the honor and sacrifices made. After acknowledging their contributions, including spelling out how the 442nd unit was the most decorated in U.S. military history, Maeda offered the following reflection:
“Could we have all volunteered in their same situation?”
Craig A Wilhelm, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for the State of Oregon, was also a speaker at the event. He said that while the unveiling event served to honor the Nisei veterans for the day, events such as that will ensure that their service and sacrifice to our country and that their lasting legacy is not lost to history.
“The Nisei were among the truest Americans we will ever know,” he said, adding that the members did Go For Broke, against the odds, and leaving behind a record still untouched today.
“These brave men and women often single-handedly rescued the wounded, and were wounded themselves; led attacks that inspired others; overcame superior numbers; risked and in several cases gave their lives to our country,” Wilhelm said.
Americans of Japanese descent faced internment, suspicion and discrimination, however, despite the racism many answered the call to go to war, he noted.
“Let that sink in for a second,” Wilhelm suggested with pause.
“These young Japanese Americans — their lives forever changed over 75 years ago,” he said. “Lives full of dreams. Lives full of aspirations. Lives full of hope. Finding themselves the target of unimaginable bigotry and hate, their families stripped of their livelihood and they answered the call of duty.”
Their legacy should “forever be enshrined in our history,” he said.
Yasuda gave a speech about her father, and how he was 16 years old and living in Portland, when he and his family were sent to Minidoka, Idaho, to an internment camp there. From there, he joined the 442nd and served until he was discharged. Following the war, he moved to Ontario, where his family had moved after living in the internment camp in southern Idaho. Yasuda said her father didn’t talk about the war often when she and her six siblings were growing up.
Like Maeda, it wasn’t until years later that she would recognize the significant role of what her family member and others in the 442 had contributed to in regards to the outcome of WWII.
Yasuda said there were dozens of Nisei veteran members who relocated to the Western Treasure Valley with their families.
“Even in their struggle against discrimination and exclusion, they rose up to serve and honor their country and their family,” she said.