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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.