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The Letter from 1945

The Letter from 1945

February 19, 1945 – Men with names like Kuwahara and Koyanagi were with the US Marines on the sands of Iwo Jima.

No, not the Japanese soldiers within the concrete fortifications led by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi of the Japanese Imperial Army. These were Americans of Japanese descent, or Japanese-Americans. Nisei. And to make matters worse, they were in the uniforms of the US Army. GI Joes. The Japanese were trying to kill them, too.

Sorry, Marines. It wasn’t all your show – lightheatedly, of course.  (One of the greatest US Marines, John Basilone, CMH, Navy Cross gave his life on those black talcum powder-like sands.)

Having said that, ever watch the iconic B&W World War II classic, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”? John Wayne might just be turning over in his grave.  But to his credit, the movie is one of my faves.  It’s theme song, “The Marine’s Hymm”, gives me goosebumps even to this day.

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The envelope immediately caught my attention. Aside from a crease, the envelope looked pristine. It was addressed to my Dad while he was in Minidoka, an Idaho prison camp where he and over 10,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned by FDR. It was postmarked September 2, 1945 – just about seven months after the bloody fight for Iwo Jima. The return address was the “War Department”.

If you’ll get past the lawyer speak, the letter says Dad is now free to go about America as he chooses.

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Because of secrecy, photos of Japanese-Americans in the US Army’s MIS are rare. This one shows Nisei on the sands of Iwo Jima.

About one thousand young Nisei men volunteered for the US Army while their families remained imprisoned in Minidoka. That’s about ten percent of the total camp’s population. Most who volunteered were from my Dad’s home state, Washington. While Dad was not one of those volunteers, 71 of these young men from Minidoka were killed fighting for the red, white and blue. Two were bestowed the Medal of Honor – posthumously. Silent patriots to this day.

“Kibei” were amongst those 1,000 men. Kibei’s were a sub-set of Nisei’s as a whole. A Kibei is a Japanese-American who actually spent time being raised in Japan. One result was they were absolutely fluent in Japanese – read, write, speak. Even slang and dirty words. No land-locked Nisei could come close. Dad was a Kibei.

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During the war, over 6,000 Nisei became part of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). The MIS were top secret. They were largely all volunteers.

But the Kibei – they formed the crucial core of the group. The most fluent. The decisive secret weapon. As luck would have it, many of these Kibei were from Hiroshima. Their fathers came to Hawaii or Washington in droves from Hiroshima for a better life – just like my Grandfather Hisakichi. (Dad is pictured here standing next to his Hiroshima home in 1947.)

MIS Kibei were the ones who intercepted and swiftly translated the Japanese Imperial Navy radio transmissions that led to the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto’s transport. Kibei also swiftly and accurately translated captured critical secret military plans written in Japanese (“Z-Plan“) for the defense of the Marianas Islands and the Philippines; this led to the lopsided American naval victory called the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in 1944 – as well as to the death of my Seattle-born Uncle Suetaro. My dad’s youngest brother.

Interestingly, due to continuing suspicions, the US Navy and the Marine Corps refused to enlist the Nisei. Their loss.

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Actual “Z-Plan” report translated by Nisei of the top secret MIS.

The cloak and dagger actions of the MIS were only declassified in the 1972 by Executive Order 11652. That’s a long time. And true to their oaths, these Nisei kept their heroics to themselves for all those decades. They sought no honor or recognition.

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But back to the letter of 1945 – mailed to my Dad just seven months after the vicious fight for Iwo Jima. While my father finally volunteered for duty in February 1947 and became part of the famed MIS, his silent and patriotic Nisei brothers that preceded him hastened the end of war and saved millions of casualties – for both sides.

In recognition for their patriotism, sacrifices and loyalty, Congress bestowed upon the MIS and other Nisei who fought for the US in 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal. Two of my uncles were recipients although they had passed away.

By the way, the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal was George Washington. I believe the Nisei are in pretty good company.

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No credit is being taken from the young Marines who fought and died for Iwo Jima. The Marines did take Iwo Jima with their blood…but they were not alone. About 50 Nisei MIS’ers landed in the first assault waves alongside the Marines.

Just ask Mineo Yamagata, a MIS veteran of Saipan and Tinian. He accompanied the 28th Marines to the summit of Mt. Suribachi and witnessed the flag raising.

Oh… He was from Hawaii.

45 thoughts on “The Letter from 1945”

  1. Hoping your dad is well. I can’t help but imagine that some of his current confusion or dementia might not all be accredited to age, but to his love for America and his duties, though so belated unfortunately due to the continued paranoia of the U.S. Security policy. What happened in the internment was one of the great injustices, very much akin to our slaughter of native Americans. I am one who watches the Military History Channel daily and see many newsreels of the various campaigns, life in Japan during the war, almost all that pertains to the Pacific from 1938 to the time when MacArthur said “…these proceedings are closed.” Your dad’s mind had to be sharp as a tack to do what he did and I am certain that in the subsequent interviews he conducted, he found some of the prison guards who treated our POWs with such disrespect. Too, I would imagine he had some input into what kind of government would be acceptable to the NEW JAPAN. I would have enjoyed meeting your dad, back then when all was clear, or now, simply to shake his hand. Koji, I also admire your way of mentally handling all of the injustices that have been committed in this vein. Tell your dad hi from a midwestern boy who went to Japan in the early 60s and had the best time in his life without a foul word every being directed to me. The Japanese are very forgiving people.

    1. Your visit and comment is greatly appreciated. Each one of us here now is a result of what millions of families endured during that most tumultuous time. As you are also doing, we need to honor their sacrifices for our families if not from a historical perspectives.

  2. I have always felt that the internment camps were a great injustice inflicted upon Americans – for these were Americans put into the camps. And to be from Japan and have the country of your birth go to war against the country you’ve adopted doubtlessly led to conflicting emotions, which your father chose to overcome in favor of his new homeland. In a way a civil war – inside. But as your dad and thousands of other Japanese-Americans illustrated, it should not matter where you are from once you are here. Here “everyone” is supposed to be welcomed on an equal basis and given all the rights and opportunities as everyone else. But the US Government interfered with that unfairly. We hear more stories like these every day, and I am glad that you share them. People must not forget, lest history be repeated. Your father’s decision to not let this infect him with a bitterness towards the USA – indeed, to go so far as to make sacrifices for it – shows he is an honorable man. I tip my hat to him; he paid much more than me – and thank you for honoring him by telling his tale.

    1. Your words are very kind and thoughtful, sir. While my father enlisted after the cutoff, the US did honor these “Nisei” with the Congressional Gold Medal. There were just so few left though it was a shame.

      1. 😀 I took the time to read through your blog, and had read that about the Medal he received, though that will never be enough for the sacrifices he and so many others made. I’ve heard those Japanese-Americans who fought on the islands – well, the Japanese gave them ‘special’ treatment for ‘betraying their Emperor and Nation” – which means an even more excruciating end; they generally did not make it to the POW camps; many were killed on the spot by the Japanese for fighting on the ‘other side’. I really feel for those guys; they had such a brave heart – and their dedication to freedom should have said something to the Japanese they were fighting (and from what I’ve read, I suppose it did for some). I am glad that you are able to honor your father the way you have. I’m sure it means much to him. And more importantly you get his tale out for others to read. Many modern people don’t realize the sacrifices our fathers made for the future we hold in our hands right now.

  3. You do your father and your uncles much honor in preserving their story, as they have honored the Red, White and Blue with their service.

  4. I gave your site to a Japanese girl with a blog talking about Nisei. I could not give you her address because it was in Japanese, but she blogs in English. Hope this helps both of you.

  5. I didn’t learn about the Japanese Americans who served with the military while their family were interned until I was doing research for my book. Though one of my uncles was in the 442nd, while his family was interned, he never talked about it. I’m happy people like you are sharing this history now. So many people are not familiar with it.

    1. Thank you for the visit, Jan, and for reading the first blog entry – a very loooong story. It was my very first attempt at blogging and admittedly, nothing is worse than a long post.

      I do intend to pick up a copy of your book; it sounds wonderfully written. I wish I could write like you…but my oldest girl can. 🙂

      And yes, many combat vets do not talk about the war…

    1. Thank you for investing your time and leaving your feedback. Blogs now must serve the purpose of leaving history because our children’s textbooks have become infatuated with being “PC”. Indeed, the topic of WWII is but several paragraphs now if that.

  6. The problem with the racist who rushes to make a decision is that he excludes a lot of very useful people. The Battle of Britain, for example, would have been lost without the Poles, the Czechs, the Greeks, the Canadians and, of course, those thrill seeking Americans.

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