There be gold in my family. Really. Well, the Congressional Gold Medal, that is. And it is made out of gold and honors the “Nisei Soldiers of World War II”. Its on display at the Smithsonian.
In fact, my family was awarded two of them. Two Congressional Gold Medals. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Three if you include a distant relative. Four if Dad had enlisted in the Army five weeks earlier. OK. Enough of that.
It was just a miracle mom and her younger sister Eiko survived the war having lived in the heart of Tokyo where very little was left standing. My grandmother was required to train with a sharpened bamboo spear to repel the invaders that were expected to come. It’s true.
But when war ended in 1945, neither my mother nor my Aunt Eiko could have possibly thought that they – through no grand scheme – would each end up marrying an “invader” and that they would end up living in America. The country that bombed their home into ashes. But it was a brutal war. Just fact.
Even more stunning is that they would be unknowingly dovetailed with the famed US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) for the rest of their lives. (I had briefly reported on the top secret MIS in an earlier short story.)
The first family member bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal is my mother and Aunt Eiko’s cousin, Taro Tanji; he is pictured above in a family portrait taken in Tokyo. He was born in Merced County, CA. Taro, like my father, was imprisoned in the camp called Granada in Colorado for being of Japanese heritage although he didn’t speak one word of Japanese.
In 1944, along with thousands of other young American boys of Japanese heritage, he was drafted out of the camp into the US Army. He was a “Nisei”. He then was assigned to the top secret US Army Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) in Fort Snelling, Minnesota to learn the Japanese language.
After graduating, he was assigned to Tokyo as part of US 8th Army and became part of the Allied Occupation. Once there, he immediately sought the fate of my mother’s family.
Through the resources of the MIS, he miraculously located my grandmother – the same one who was forced to train with a bamboo spear. They had survived but were in dire straits like millions of other survivors.
Exactly as my father did for my cousin Masako in Hiroshima, Taro used whatever pay he had to buy them clothing and essentials from the PX, took them C-rations and of course, American cigarettes for my grandfather. There are many stories of other things Taro did (he was a STRONG man) which I will save for later.
A kind man, Taro became a much loved teacher in the Gardena school system. He recently passed away in Gardena, CA in 2009.
His CGM was posthumously awarded to his wife, Aunt Martha. Amazingly, neither mom nor Aunt Eiko realized Taro was part of the MIS until I told them. I determined that through research of US Army records.
My Aunt Eiko was sickly as a young girl. Indeed, it was a miracle especially for her to have survived. She hates medicine, even to this day. As a funny story, when the US Army began de-licing the surviving Japanese citizens, she ran away as she was terrified she would get sick from the powder. Well, it was DDT so she wasn’t that far off.
In 1966, she met Paul Sakuma, a Hawaiian born Nisei. While Uncle Paul told Aunt Eiko he was also put into camp on the Mainland (the article says that, too), I can find no record of his internment. However, Uncle Paul was at some time in Springfield, Massachusetts after the war started. He was “featured” in this newspaper article. Surely, the title of the article was a sign of the times.
Uncle Paul was also drafted in 1944 and was also sent to the MISLS at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is the only photo Aunt Eiko has of Uncle Paul in uniform. I stumbled across it last year. Frankly, Aunt Eiko also knew very little of his Army days but I noticed the building in the background (below) as being the old cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which sparked my researching again. He was also indeed a member of the famed MIS unbeknownst to Aunt Eiko.
Uncle Paul was also immediately dispatched to Tokyo as part of the Occupation Force. He was assigned to the 720th Military Police Battalion and accompanied patrols where his translation abilities were needed. A couple of good patrol stories – ones that men would likely appreciate. Perhaps some ladies, too. No harm, no foul, as the great Chick Hearn said.
Days before my first marriage, I got a call from Aunt Eiko late at night. She was hysterical. Uncle Paul had died of a massive heart attack in 1980 in Tokyo in the new home he had just finished building for them. He had continued living in Tokyo as a civilian employee of the USAF.
Like Taro, Uncle Paul was posthumously awarded the CGM. I secured the CGM and surprised her with it. Aunt Eiko “cried for happy” as he held the medal for the first time early this year (below). She loves him greatly to this day. She said, “Even today, Paul brings me great happiness.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, well, you’re pretty tough.
As dad volunteered in February 1947, he did not qualify for the CGM. But unbelievably, mom, too, did not know much of what dad did in the Army let alone him being a member of the MIS. Mom said dad never talked much about it except to say he did not enjoy interrogating Japanese soldiers being returned from Russia and Manchuria.
Nevertheless, mom and Aunt Eiko WERE enmeshed with the famed Military Intelligence Service although they didn’t realize it. Fate. They were surrounded by the invaders – secretly. Famous ones at that. A prejudiced opinion, of course.
I am very proud of these Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is a tremendous honor and finally brings to public light the importance of the intelligence they secretly obtained for our United States of America amidst prejudice and discrimination.
I like to think that these Americans of Japanese heritage weathered the clouds of that time so we could have glorious sunshine today.