Tag Archives: internment camp

What Did FDR Know? – Part 5


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My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Yutaka, in the back row, center. He is posing with the Block kitchen crew at the Minidoka, Idaho “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. Notice their living quarters behind them.  They lived in plywood barracks covered only with tar paper.  There was no plumbing nor toilets installed.  Photo courtesy of my stateside cousin, Janice (Kanemoto) Hew.

So you likely see from reading Parts 1 through 4 of “What Did FDR Know” that Japan really never had a chance…  A chance to win WWII.

Their chances were nearly nil largely due to the US breaking two key Japanese codes.  One was JN-25, the code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The other, as we’ve read, was “Purple”, the secret cipher used by the Japanese diplomats.  Simply put, we knew exactly what they were doing as well as what they were going to do in all aspects.

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 A Family Example of What Happened

My father’s draft card before Pearl Harbor, postmarked December 13, 1940.  As a US citizen, he was eligible for the draft and classified 1(A):

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My dad’s revised draft card mailed to him while imprisoned at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”, postmarked January 19, 1943.  This is now official notice he was now classified 4(C) – Enemy Alien.  The address bears his address (block number) at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”:

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Interestingly, the cards are creased as he was required to carry it in his wallet at all times.  All American males of draft age were…even if they were imprisoned in a dusty, barren dry lake bed in California stripped of all rights.

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Armed guard at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. My father, uncle, aunt and cousins were there so he was guarding them. US Army Signal Corps, May 23, 1943.

Ironic, isn’t it?

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But what did FDR know about “suspect” activities by people of Japanese descent living in the US on the West Coast before Pearl Harbor?  Most importantly, of the extent and magnitude of their “suspect” activities?  We’re talking espionage.  What could have prompted his ordering the “evacuation” of such people from the west coast of America?

But don’t get me wrong; it was not just the Japanese.  People of German descent loyal to Nazi Germany also did spy…as did people of Italian descent.  Some were loyal to their homeland, not the US.  But certainly it was not ALL of them.  Let’s not forget the famous East Coast docks were run by the Italians, too.  Certainly, if one wished to “spy” and report on ship movements, there could not have been a better way.  Being dock workers, they know what supply ship left when…and with what.  After all, they loaded them.  A number were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by the waiting U-boats.

Let’s explore this a bit further.

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Since we are addressing “suspect” activities, here’s an interesting sidebar to this story.

Did you know that eight German saboteurs were caught on American soil whose combined cases were brought before a special session of the Supreme Court on July 29, 1942?  Did you know they came ashore from submarines in mid-June with greenbacks worth over $2 million today, explosives and even James Bond-like devices?  The case was referred to as the Ex parte Quirin.  It was named as such because of the lead saboteur, Richard Quirin. Quirin had lived in the US for a dozen years and became the first spy “trainee” of this group once he returned to Germany.

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In short, six of the eight got to sit in the electric chair just about ten days later…  On top of that, a one saboteur (Herbert Haupt) actually went to live with his father in Chicago.  The father also helped him apply for a job and get a car.  Another saboteur, Werner Thiel, actually handed some of the money over to his once room mate and business partner, Anthony Cramer; they owned a deli but it had failed.  But it is interesting to note that in spite of this event, there was not a mass imprisonment of German nationals or their American-born offspring from this incident which made the US Supreme Court.

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The MAGIC Intercepts Distribution Process

Because the US had broken the ultra-complex “Purple” code in 1939 used by the Japanese diplomats, FDR was able to at least see exactly what the Japanese diplomatic corps was doing before Pearl Harbor.

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Lt. Cmdr. Arthur McCollum. US Navy Photo

ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) had established a secret delivery system for the intercepted Japanese military and diplomatic intelligence (MAGIC) for FDR in the winter of 1940. Lt. Com. Arthur H. McCollum of ONI, and the author of the “McCollum Memo”, was the distribution officer; his name was on 151 USN routing slips in the National Archives.(¹) These routing slips provided a trail to a large collection of Army and Navy MAGIC ultra secret deciphers from monitoring Japanese communications; these were presented to FDR, the top military chiefs and several key members of the Administration between February 1940 and December 7, 1941. Sometimes, when McCollum deemed he had a “hot” item, he would personally deliver the message to FDR; otherwise the President’s naval aide made the delivery as per below.

According to Stinnett (1):

The Japanese intercepts destined for FDR were placed in special folders.  Captain Callaghan (Naval Aide to FDR) was responsible for the safety of the documents. Roosevelt read the original copy but did not retain any of the intercepts. Each original was eventually returned to the folder and stored in McCollum’s safe at Station US in Washington. There they remained, available for White House review. Shortly after December 7, when Congressional critics began to question the administration’s failure to prevent the Hawaii attack, all records involving the Japanese radio intercept program—including the White House route logs and their secret content—were locked away in vaults controlled by Navy communications officials.

These intercepts would include those related to Japanese espionage efforts.  This twenty-two month monitoring program prior to Pearl Harbor also allowed FDR and key staff to anticipate and analyze Japan’s reaction to the provocations advocated in the McCollum Memo.(²)

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So what did some of the MAGIC intercepts and other investigative reports include before Pearl Harbor and up to the imprisonment of about 117,000 people of Japanese descent against their will?  We already know per “What Did FDR Know – Part 3” that Tokyo instructed its American-based diplomats to covertly begin putting together an espionage network.  In fact, because we had broken the Japanese codes, the US “listened in” on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in February 1941; he clued in Captain Kanji Ogawa, Japan’s top intelligence officer, of the intentions of attacking Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto wanted to give Ogawa enough time to put together his own military-based network in the event of war.

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ONI memo generated for FDR, dated February 12, 1941. This was based upon the Purple deciphers, with Tokyo instructing American-based diplomats to set up their espionage nets. Source: “Magic” by David D. Lowman.

Prior to the message instructing diplomats to energetically strengthen their espionage efforts, there were already Japanese spies living on the west coast.  Under the disguise of language students, Japanese military agents (primarily IJN) had already established their network including a small number of Issei and Nisei, militaristic Japanese organizations, Japanese clubs and business fronts.  This facet was led by Lt. Cmdr. Itaru Tachibana of the IJN.  In June 1941, however, this ring was smashed.  Tachibana, and unbelievably a former chauffeur and business secretary to Charlie Chaplin named Toraichi Kono, had tried to recruit a former US Navy seaman (Al Blake) but Blake turned him in.  While Tachibana and his lieutenants were deported, detailed searches of their living quarters provided detailed records of their espionage network.  This detail included names of residents of Japanese descent as well as a number of organizations.

While not a historian, the following is a summary of what I deem to be key MAGIC intercepts in addition to other information gathered by other entities such as the FBI.  In addition to information contained in the previous four parts, the thirst for intelligence by the Japanese was high:

  1. February 5, 1941 – Tokyo instructed the diplomats to come up with a contingency plan in the event something were to happen (i.e., war).  To always exercise due care and to look at Central/South America for continuing intelligence efforts.
  2. February 15, 1941 – Tokyo directly asked for intelligence on materiel movement (especially planes and ships), non-military cargo vessels, troop movements, production of planes and arms, military training activities, etc.
  3. April 24, 1941 – This intercept disclosed that Tokyo wanted a status update of its previous orders in regards to: (1) keying in on intelligence instead of propaganda, (2) recruiting of agents for the ring, and (3) established standards for reporting such information.
  4. May 9, 1941 – The Los Angeles office reported that they “…have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials…”  Further, they shall “…maintain close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers.”
  5. May 19, 1941 – the Japanese Embassy in Washington requested $500,000 more cash to further their recruiting for intelligence gathering purposes, i.e., entertainment, bribery, etc.
  6. June 10, 1941 – To prevent an international scandal, this intercept recommended that it be made to look as if Kono’s friends were supporting him financially for his defense and to keep the IJN out of further suspicion on the arrest of Tachibana.  It was recommended $25,000 be offered as a bribe to Kono; the memo stated  in part “…in view of the danger that he might give evidence unsatisfactory  to TACHIBANA.”
  7. October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
  8. October 28, 1941 – in one of many transmissions reporting naval ship movements, the Seattle diplomats reported in detail the sailing of fifteen Coast Guard vessels.  They also reported their four-inch guns were upgraded to five-inch guns.
  9. November 29, 1941 – Tokyo ordered the San Francisco diplomats to report in detail all arrivals, departure dates and destinations of ALL commercial and war ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. (Note: this was not transcribed until December 4, 1941.)
  10. December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.

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Please note there were hundreds of these types of transmissions, both from and to Tokyo.  In addition, there were quite a few official FBI reports detailing espionage activities.  These reports also included names and businesses that were involved.  The FBI was not privy to MAGIC intercepts.

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FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which had the effect of forcibly relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry – both citizens and aliens – out of the west coast’s Pacific military zone and into War Relocation Centers. The much later publicized objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had bitter anti-Japanese attitudes.

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Dad in his US Army duds, Tokyo 1947. The Emperor’s Palace is behind him to his left. MacArthur’s GHQ is off to the right (Dai-Ichi Sei Mei Building).

So what is the point of this story, the last installment of “What Did FDR Know?”

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of their race.  In other words, they were discriminated against, pure and simple.³

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because “FDR wanted to protect the Japanese from hate crimes”.  After all, my grandmother was egged while she lived in Seattle.  Some Japanese girls were taunted or worse, molested, assaulted or raped.  Indeed, there was hysteria.

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of the espionage activities.  And from the above, we do see some were taking part in espionage activities.  In other words, the US wanted to ensure we won the war in the Pacific with the fewest amount of lost lives as possible and espionage was certainly a risk.  But if that were the case, how would the US go about removing Japanese suspected of espionage?  Just knock on specific homes and businesses and arrest specific men…but leave the others to go about their daily lives?

If they did that, wouldn’t Tokyo suspect their “secret” transmissions were being intercepted?  How else would the US have known who to arrest?  And if Tokyo did suspect that, what if they changed their codes?  We’d be in the dark again intel-wise.  More of our military would therefore possibly lose their lives.  (NOTE: It is true not one person of Japanese descent was tried and convicted of espionage.  However, it is my amateur opinion that they were NOT tried to maintain secrecy about the broken codes.  Case in point: the Supreme Court above.  Certainly, the fact we listened in on their espionage activities would have become public knowledge from testimony.)

So what do you think?  How does this compare to what you were taught?

(ADDENDUM – July 23, 2014

As a good fellow mentioned, the third paragraph immediately above can be read to imply my dad was suspected of espionage activities.  He was not.)

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In my opinion, our breaking of the Japanese codes was America’s greatest secret weapon.

It was not the atomic bomb.

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NOTES:

(1) Per “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor” by Robert Stinnett.

(2) There was a brief period in 1941 when FDR himself was removed from the MAGIC distribution list.

(3) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.  The Act approved paying each surviving Japanese or Japanese-American $20,000 each for being unlawfully stripped of their rights for no reason other than race.  (My dad, four uncles, four aunts and seven cousins each did receive payment as did other more distant relatives.)

A Saturday in SoCal


A wordless post.

Well, almost.

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So what happens on a beautiful weekend in SoCal?

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Picked up the wall portrait of my kids from Alan Miyatake of Toyo Miyatake Studios.
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This appears to be an artistic rendition of one of Alan’s photographs of Ms. Condoleezza Rice?
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The famous grandfather of Alan, Toyo Miyatake.

Went to visit dad…  The workers there told me he’s not eating much as of late.  He only had a small salad with a little bit of chicken for lunch.  When I asked him if he was hungry, he said no but when I showed him one of his favorite Japanese treats, he went to town.

Number one.

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There goes number two!

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Number three down the hatch!

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He’s happy now. 🙂  And he did finish the last ball.IMG_0102

Took him one of Alan’s 8×10’s…labeled.  He’s 94 now.

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My bud Brian drove down from Reno for St. Paddy’s Day weekend – no better excuse to share a stogie together!

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Played around with my new Canon SX260 HS point and shoot camera.  Never had one that I can remember but it was fun to shoot with.

Superior close up capability.

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Hand held.  Look at the detail… Not bad for a shaky ol’ fart?

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I’m keeping an eye on all of you! Who’s got Visine?

Fish eye setting…

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My neighbor’s new son, Gabriel.  The father is USAF…  I pray for his safe return always.aIMG_0168

And finally, these were for me.  Like father, like son!  LOL

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The Photographer for My Daughter’s Wedding


“Just photos,” as they say…  Photos of my beautiful daughter’s wedding a couple of weeks ago.

Well, with just a little writing, perhaps, with a smidgeon of our American history tossed in.

In my other blog posts, there has been mention of the “internment camps” in which one-half of my dad’s family was imprisoned in the US during WWII.

Internees were not allowed to bring in cameras amongst many other things deemed to be a threat to national or camp security – like knives, guns, tools…and cameras.

However, at one camp called “Manzanar” (where my Aunt Shiz and cousins were imprisoned), one brave soul braved the tight security measures and actually made his own camera…in secret.  He then took prohibited photographs during his interment.  His name was Toyo Miyatake…  (Note: there is a super documentary on Toyo Miyatake called “Toyo’s Camera“: http://www.toyoscamera.com/.  One contributor was George Takei who played “Sulu” on “Star Trek”.  Takei was also imprisoned during the war.)

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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios

The actual camera he made is shown below; it is still in the possession of the Miyatake family:

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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios

In what I believe is a Signal Corps official photograph, the Toyo Miyatake family is pictured in their Manzanar barracks:

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Toyo Miyatake’s family in Manzanar

This is one of the more well-known photographs taken by Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar during WWII:

Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios
Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios

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Jump forward to today.

Toyo Miyatake’s grandson is Alan Miyatake; my 11 year old son sneakily grabbed my EXPENSIVE DSLR and snapped this photo of Alan and I chatting at my daughter’s wedding.  The  gent on the left is Alan.  We are the same age……but I do look YOUNGER, of course.  Just kidding, Alan!

Alan Miyatake on the left
Alan Miyatake on the left

We’ve known each other for over five decades now; we attended the same church.  When we played B-ball in the church league, he played guard.  When he let loose a shot, his form reminded me of a graceful ballet.  He was good… and his photography was fortunately much better. (Smile)

He shot my weddings…both of them, unfortunately.  And there was no one else I was honored to have shooting my daughter’s.  Both of us were joking before the wedding that we were both extremely grateful for auto-focus…

The following proofs are Alan’s work where noted.

Thanks, Alan…but I still challenge you in sports photography! LOL

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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios.  Isn’t my daughter just beautiful?  Takes after mom, I am told.
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios

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My four wonderful kids:

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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios.  This would be the last photo of the four kids together before her marriage.  I was honored to have Alan take this portrait.
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios.  My oldest son Takeshi and my ex.
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios
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Copyright Toyo Miyatake Studios.  Doesn’t she look gorgeous?

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And now, some of my snapshots…  Gotta throw these in:

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My son was the officiant (i.e., he married them off).  He got choked up a few times.  The bridesmaid on the far left is my cousin’s daughter, seven months pregnant.

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Ever faithful and reliable Alan at work…
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They make their entry as husband and wife
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First dance…

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James and my youngest girl Brooke on their way for a dance. It was (HOPEFULLY) her first one.
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My littlest son’s (hopefully NOT his) first dance.
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Breaking of the ceremonial cask of “osake” graciously provided by my new in-laws.
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Remember Jake and Brady? Their parents, too…but Brooke was too embarrassed to dance…yet.
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Jake lost! She was too embarrassed to dance. 🙂
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My bud Don and his wife Marie. A guy couldn’t ask for a more loyal and faithful friend. Thanks, Cap.

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Alan, great job once again.  I was honored to have you shoot my daughter’s wedding.

And congratulations, James and Robyn.  Love you both.

Ike, a German-American Soldier


General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Thirty-forth President of the United States of America.

An American soldier.

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An “American soldier”.

Plain.  Straight forward.  No descriptive.

But as a simple question… Was he ever referred to as a “German-American” soldier?  After all, he is of German descent.

Or as a “Kraut”?  No insult intended whatsoever.

I don’t know.

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How about General Charles Willoughby?

Major General Willoughby

Never heard of him?

He was General Douglas MacArthur’s right-hand man.  Chief of Intelligence during and after World War II.  G-2.  My dad’s boss’ boss.

An American soldier.

Did you know Willoughby was born in the town of Heidelberg, Germany, the son of Baron T. von Tscheppe-Weidenbach from Baden, Germany?  A royal German family.  His real name was Adolf Karl Tscheppe-Weidenbach.

He spoke German fluently.  And spoke English with a heavy accent.

Was he referred to as a “German-American” soldier?

Or as a “Kraut”?

I don’t know.

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How about my two uncles who received the Congressional Gold Medal?  Or even my dad?

An American soldier.

Unlike Willoughby, dad was born here.  In Seattle.

He spoke both English and Japanese without an accent.  And Ike didn’t speak German.

Is there any difference in Dad’s summer uniform in comparison to Ike’s?

Well, I guess there is a difference.  Ike’s has five stars; Dad’s doesn’t… Oh, and Dad’s is wrinkled.

But unlike Ike and General Willoughby, soldiers like Dad were referred to as “Japanese-American” soldiers.  Even today.  Or just plain “Jap” back then…even when in uniform.

Even in newspapers.  Here is one on my Uncle Paul who was bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal two years ago.

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Don’t get me wrong.  There is no intent to ruffle feathers.  Or to be accusatory or express anger.  And I certainly am not calling our 34th President a “Kraut”.

This is just history…  Albeit, perhaps, from an odd vantage point.

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But why is there a distinction made?

Are we – Americans in a broad stroke of the keyboard – bringing attention to minorities in too great a lawyer-driven focus?  But considering the popular vote, my friends, the minorities are no longer minorities.  Let’s face the facts.

From history, we need to learn.  Yes.  And we need to look at ourselves as of today… but with a helluva lot fewer lawyers.  (Did I write that?)

And people need to be “working” to the best of their ability… to live on their own ability instead of an expectation of assistance.  As a fellow blogger so eloquently wrote in “The Value of Ability“, we need to tighten up this ship and boost a person’s confidence that they do have potential and to live up to those expectations.

It’s time to move on from minority recognition…in whatever shape or form.  Hiring requirements.  College enrollment requirements.  Special program requirements. Especially within governments – local, state or federal…  Especially in our schools.  How about hiring a conservative to be a teacher once in a while..?  In my humble opinion, of course.

Time to promote “American-ism”.

Ike would have liked that, I’m sure.

正覚寺


正覚寺。

Catchy title?

In the past several years, as his dementia progresses, Dad is repeating many times how he broke his elbow as a young boy…  “Many times” like as in every four minutes.  No…every two.

I thought, “He doesn’t remember he ate like a horse ten minutes ago…  How can he remember something that happened 80+ years ago?”

Well, I just HAD to find out about his story…  and I did.

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The story (which never varies) is/was he was playing “oninga”, or tag, with the neighborhood kids.  “There was nothing else to do then,” he would tell me.  They would end up in the yard of 正覚寺 – pronounced “Shoukakuji” – the Buddhist temple which is a hop, skip and a jump from his home.  No wonder he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.

You can see a tiled roof on the tallest structure to the right of him.  That is 正覚寺.

The tiled roof of “Shoukakuji” can be seen behind and to the right of Dad in this 1948 photo.  He is standing alongside his childhood home.

For those who like visuals:

Satellite view of home and Shoukakuji, 2012.

He would tell me (over and over) that while playing tag, “…I tried to get away so I jumped on this big round stone then leaped up to a branch on big a pine tree in front of 正覚寺.”

Now that I know he did the broad jump at Nichu, I thought this jumping thing was therefore plausible.  (Did I mention I’m a writer for “Mythbusters”?)

“Trouble is, I jumped too far so my hands couldn’t grab onto the branch.  I slipped off the branch then broke my elbow when I hit the ground”.

OK.  So now, after “An Atomic Spark From a 1937 Yearbook“, I also know he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.  Plausible.  (See…  More proof I am a writer for “Mythbusters”.)

To this day, he cannot completely straighten out his right arm.  It’s crooked.  He now tells this story to my youngest kids, Jack and Brooke…  Every four minutes.

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On September 7, 2012, I had to know.  Off to 正覚時…  But unlike my agile father of the 1920’s, I was walking very gingerly.  There were four humongous blisters on my toes from walking in Japan and (from being tricked into) climbing Mt. Misen on Miyajima.

The sign at the entry gate, or “mon”.  Shoukakuji’s middle character is written with an old Japanese character.

Indeed, there was a Japanese pine tree, or “matsu”.  A huge one.  You couldn’t miss it as you walk through the “mon”, or gate.  It was so huge, the temple had steel braces installed to help hold these majestic branches up.

Steel posts and braces were installed to help hold up these ancient branches.

Off the to right, was the base of the tree.  A puny trunk in relation to the Goliath branches…  It was hard to believe at first this small trunk was the heart for this proud tree.

Then…  at the base…  was a large round stone.  Could it possibly be?  Plausible as we don’t know how long the stone was there…  Am I tough?

Masako and my son Takeshi stand next to the large round stone and pine tree made famous by my father some eighty-plus years ago.

But where’s the branch my father jumped for?  Myth: Busted!…  or so I thought.

Then we saw it.  Above my son Takeshi in the picture.  The base of a broken branch.  It was at the right height!  OK…  Myth: Plausible.

Here is the branch that Dad supposedly leaped for 80+ years ago…but fell and broke his elbow.

But conclusive proof was just beyond reach.  There was no evidence as to age of the tree or how long the stone was there…

Then, as if Aunt Shiz summoned him, the reverend of 正覚寺 came out…with his wife.  He was about 90 years old.  Almost as old as my dad but he still had his wits about him.  Thank goodness.

He told us he didn’t know my father personally…but that he played with Suetaro and Mieko, Dad’s youngest brother and sister!  He knew Suetaro well, he said.  He listened to Suetaro blow on his flute from the house in the evenings.

My Japanese wasn’t good enough so Masako stepped in…  She explained to the elderly reverend how my dad (her uncle) had jumped from a large round stone at the base of a pine tree here 80+ years ago and broke his elbow.

Masako is mimicking my father’s broken right elbow and his story while my son Takeshi and cousin Kiyoshi watch. Kiyoshi was pointing to the stone to supplement the story.

Unbelievably, the reverend said with pride, “The pine tree is about 400 years old…and that stone has been there for as long as I can remember.  It hasn’t been moved, either.”

Then the wife said that a number of years ago, the branch had broken off but it was very long.  Then after it broke off, “…a swarm of bees made a home inside.  We had to seal the crack unfortunately,” to account for the mortar on the branch.

Was his story a myth?  Busted?  Plausible?  Confirmed?

Myth: Confirmed.

Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING.  His memory is intact from that time.

Mission accomplished.

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But to end this fun story, we had my Aunt Shiz’s interment the next morning.

The reverend’s son was the officiant.  Glorious.  The circle of generations continues.  And he brought along one more piece of treasure to the interment:

The reverend’s son brought this gift for Masako and my Dad.

A photo of the majestic Japanese pine tree covered in snow.

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There are souls in this tree, too.

Oh…  I was kidding about Mythbusters.

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude – Part II


A young Grandmother Kono takes a modeling pose in front of her Seattle barbershop. She cannot possibly have foreseen what the future holds in store for her.

The most wicked risk of a mother’s love for a child is loss, and the price of loss is grief…  But the sheer passion of grief can become indescribable if a mother ponders on her decisions.

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In Part I, we left when my father returned to Seattle to stay while leaving behind in Hiroshima his two youngest siblings and his parents.  This was 1937.  Before leaving, the family took this portrait with Grandmother Kono sitting on the sakura wood at the house.  Suetaro is standing next to her:

One of the last portraits of the three siblings and my grandparents. Grandmother Kono is sitting on the sakura wood written about in “Souls of Wood“. Circa 1937

My father says that their younger sister Mieko was ill often.  Indeed, she passed away in 1939 at just 15 years of age from an apparent kidney infection.  Since my father was already in Seattle by that time, only his youngest brother Suetaro was left along with my grandparents.  Most decisively, Grandmother decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle when he turned 18.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi,” she was very concerned over the harassment and intimidation she had received due to the threat of war against Japan.  I also “feel” that Grandmother knew Grandfather was ill by the time she made the decision.

Sure enough, the very next year (1940), Grandfather Hisakichi passed away from stomach cancer.  He was 59 years old.  After raising Mieko for 15 years and marrying Hisakichi 31 years earlier in Seattle as a picture bride, only she and Suetaro were left in their home.  War with America would start the following year.  A war in which her three oldest surviving children called America home.

One family.  One war.  Two countries…  One mother.
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An undated school portrait of Suetaro. He looks to be about 14 years old.
For reasons I have been unable to document, Suetaro became part of the Imperial Japanese Army.  All Dad will say now is being taken by the Imperial Army was “part of life” back then.  Below, he is sitting on the sofa’s arm to celebrate the young man in the center being sent to China’s Army HQs.
According to the handwritten date on the back, this photo of Suetaro below (on right manning a non-combat grade light machine gun made for training) was taken on May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds”:
Suetaro on the right. Dated May 10, 1939. I wonder what Grandmother Kono was feeling.
Here is Suetaro, perhaps in a posed photograph for PR purposes.  It is of professional quality and taken on the same day as above:
Likely a professionally taken photograph of Suetaro.  It was also taken on May 10, 1939 in Hara Mura.

I have a strong belief this was taken at the Fukuyama training grounds for his regiment, the 41st Infantry Regiment (unverified):

A proud looking Suetaro in his full Army uniform. I cannot tell if the handle on his katana, or “samurai sword”, is wrapped in silk or machine stamped. All military issued swords were numbered, by the way.

Another piece of his elusive history then emerged – but it was not from the 100 year old woodshed.

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Readers know that my Uncle Suetaro was killed in action as a Japanese soldier on Leyte.  His regiment – the 41st Infantry Regiment – was annihilated by the US Army on Leyte.  My Grandmother Kono was told he perished on July 15, 1945 – just a month before Japan surrendered.  My father’s secret US Army unit, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), had a direct hand in the high number of Japanese casualties – and the low number of American casualties.  In other words, the MIS likely had a direct hand in the annihilation of Suetaro’s regiment.  The MIS was comprised of Americans…of Japanese descent.
Dad as part of the MIS in post-war Japan.
It is not known if Grandmother knew of this fact.  It would have been an overwhelming of her heart.
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However, this is not a story on Suetaro’s life but about his life with his mother.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi”, we know she had her second stroke after being informed by the remnants of the Japanese military of her beloved Suetaro’s death.  The last Kanemoto in the family home was now… herself.

During my trip to the family home in September, my cousin Masako, her younger brother Kiyoshi, her son Toshiro along with my son were looking at vintage photos Toshiro uncovered just a couple weeks prior in the shed.  A number were of Suetaro with my father and Grandmother.  We were all quite emotional by then.  Masako removed herself from the table; I assumed she was overcome.  I didn’t stop her from quietly leaving thinking that.

Instead, she came back a few minutes later with something in her hand.  It was a small notebook.  Aged and frayed at the bindings.  Her eyes were red.

It was Suetaro’s war diary.  We were simply stunned.  Masako had it secreted away.  For decades.  She chose to bring it out now.  For closure.  It was the right time.

Masako shocked all of us when she brought out Suetaro’s Army diary.  (L to R) Masako, Kiyoshi and Toshiro, her son.  The Kleenex box is there for my use.

It took us a few moments to realize what she had brought.  It was brittle and smelled of old books.  The paperstock was of low quality – more like newspaper stock – as paper was in very limited supply during the war years.  We handled it as gently as possible.

The first few pages were of what he did during a short period of time; Suetaro’s writing was neat and in black ink.

Then the handwriting changed.  Suddenly.  It was hurried.  Rushed.  And in pencil.

It was his farewell letter to his mother.  My dad’s mother.  My grandmother.  It was dated March 3, 1944.
Kiyoshi is holding Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama” on the right.
Kiyoshi tried to read it; it was difficult as it not only was in his hurried cursive but in pre-MacArthur Japanese.  Many characters are simply not used any more.  Unused since 1945.  Only a few people can read it – like my father.  Suetaro’s brother.  But we managed to read critical passages.  I will include two pages as reference.  However, these are very literal translations of a few sentences but needs be read in its entire context considering the environment was when he wrote this.  It is easy to misunderstand or misconstrue his heart and soul at that moment.
Towards the left, it states, “初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます. 勿論, 生還を期してはいません”, or literally, “I am glad to be going to war and facing my first combat. Of course, I do not expect to be coming back.”
He writes, “今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます,” or “At this time, Japan is at the point of either winning or perishing. We must persevere as I still dream that we will free our older brothers.”

I stress this abbreviated presentation can be misunderstood.  My interpretation is, “I willingly go to war for Japan as we are on the brink of winning or losing.  By winning, Japan will free my older brothers from the concentration camps in the US.”

He will fight – and die – so that Japan will win.  If Japan wins, they would take over the United States and by doing so, free my Dad and his older brother Yutaka from the concentration camp.  At the time of his writing, both were imprisoned at the camp in Minidoka, Idaho after being relocated from Tule Lake, CA.  (His nephew, Bobby, had already perished in Minidoka at the young age of six.)  His older sister, my Aunt Shiz who passed away last month, was imprisoned at Manzanar.

Man, my eyes welled up.  Everybody was in shock…even Masako once again.

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I am unable to comprehend how my Grandmother must have felt reading that letter in 1944.  Suetaro had secreted it away in the “butsudan”, or family altar.  She had decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle to join his elder siblings.  Now, having read this letter, her regret must have been immense.  Grief.  She lost a piece of herself.  A beloved piece.

Mieko had passed away.  So did her husband in 1940.  Now her youngest son writes he does not expect to return.

Could she have foreseen this fate while she happily stood in front of her Seattle barbershop near King St. and Maynard in Seattle in the 1910’s?  I doubt it.

She would be alone.  To ponder.  To possibly regret to her last day.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

It is dated April 9th on the back with no year indicated. However, as my father took it when he was in the MIS, I will assume it is around 1948. Her face is worn.

“There’s No Toilet Paper in the Jungle of Burma”


Dad and I waiting to go in to watch MIS

Dad broke his silence.

“War is no good,” he said as we left the small community movie theater near his assisted living home today; we had just watched the limited release documentary “MIS: Human Secret Weapon”.  It was about his highly classified World War II US Army unit.  He had silently watched and with a ghostly stillness.  But I saw him wipe his eyes twice after gently lifting his glasses.  Others openly wept…but I had never, ever seen him shed a tear before today.

I was ignorant.  Combat isn’t necessary for the ugliness of war to be buried in a person’s mind.  The documentary made it clear that it is also easily dug out.  All one needs to do is scratch.

Official US Army document certifying his Military Intelligence Service days.

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The documentary reveals the conflicted state of mind of the then young Japanese-Americans who made up the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS).  About 3,000 of them – including two of my uncles – secretly and faithfully served the red, white and blue, hastening the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri.

Another 3,000 served during the Occupation of Japan.  My dad was one and worked out of General Eichelberger’s US 8th Army’s GHQ in Yokohama.  That’s when he was able to journey to Hiroshima and see his mother for the first time in ten years…and when a hungry Masako first relished the flavor of Spam.

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Grant Ichikawa, MIS, CGM and me. 2010

One Nisei veteran interviewed was Grant Ichikawa.  He was gracious enough to not only greet me and my family in 2010 near his home in Rosslyn, VA, he also secretly treated us to lunch.  Pun intended.  He had lost his wife Millie just months before.  She was an even rarer female member of the MIS as well.

He and Terry Shima (also interviewed in the documentary) gave me the jump start in finding out about Dad’s involvement in the MIS.  During that all too brief get together, Grant did touch on what he did on the battlefront in a GI uniform.  He also said it “got dicey”.

In this documentary, you learn of one such experience.  He was told there were Japanese soldiers who had agreed to surrender.  Grant said he was the point man.  They proceeded to the rendezvous point where he met the Japanese commander; they were in the middle of an open field.

It turns out there were 200 to 250 of them; all their weapons were in good working order he says in the documentary.  Grant suddenly realized – out in the middle of this field – that these Japanese soldiers were “toukoutai”, or “suicide corps”.  Grant just as quickly and with great consternation realized there were only ten of them… GI’s, that is, armed only with rifles.  I’m sure Grant picked his words wisely.  He is still alive.

“Dicey” was a definite understatement.

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In a lighter moment, Ken Akune described how they were searching a Japanese soldier that had surrendered in the jungle of Burma.  They came across one of the American propaganda leaflets promising safe passage for those Japanese soldiers that surrendered.  It was neatly folded in a pocket.

Surrender Propaganda Written by MIS Nisei.

Akune asked the Japanese soldier if he believed what the leaflet promised since the MIS Nisei wrote it.  The Japanese soldier said no but that it made for good toilet paper.  “There was no toilet paper in the jungle of Burma,” said the prisoner.

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Thomas Tsubota broke down at the end of his interview.  Many did.

Tsubota was one of the top secret MIS members of Merrill’s Marauders.

They had just stumbled across ten Japanese soldiers in a small jungle clearing, he says.  “Boom,” he said, in a split second they killed them all.  He described how his commander, Colonel Beach, called him over to inspect a photo album taken off one of the now dead Japanese soldiers

They looked through the album.  Tsubota told Col. Beach there was nothing of military importance in it but as they came upon the last page of the album, there was a picture of a mother and a daughter.

Tsubota said Colonel Beach’s eyes got red, filled with tears and he said, “Thank you, Tom.”

While crying, Tsubota ended the interview by saying this is why he isn’t enthusiastic about talking about the war.  Too painful.  He doesn’t want to think about that sad moment.  Tsubota is 96 years old.  I thought Dad was old.

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The documentary intensely yet humanely describes the internal turmoil within these young American GIs of Japanese descent.  Quite a few had brothers who were left in Japan when war broke out and were killed as Japanese soldiers.  Deep down, many carried guilt that their own secret actions led to the deaths of their own brothers.  My Dad’s youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – was one of those casualties.

But these 3,000 young American boys of Japanese heritage did their job as did millions of other young American boys…but in secret.  They translated diaries covered with blood or offered cigarettes to Japanese prisoners to extract military intelligence while battles were raging.

They endured years of discrimination and intimidation to boot – both from GI’s fighting alongside them as well as back home.  A barber in Chicago wouldn’t cut Dad’s hair because of his race – and he was wearing his perfectly creased US Army uniform with sergeant’s stripes, sleeve highlighted by the proud shoulder patch of the US 8th Army.

The secrecy was officially lifted in 1972 by Executive Order 11652.
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Uncle Suetaro on right.

Just the two of us, I thought, were going to see this movie and that this may help Dad slow down his growing dementia.

I was wrong.

His quiet tears and with his exiting comment, I am sure Uncle Suetaro was there, too, in Dad’s heart – as if it was 1937 in Hiroshima when he last saw his brother alive.

Over the past two years, I’ve asked, “Dad, tell me about what you worked on in the MIS.  What was the one thing you remember the most?  A picture?  A diary?”  Each time, the answer was vague or “I don’t know.”  I chalked it up to senility.

He doesn’t want to talk about it…just like Tsubota painfully recalling Col. Beach and the photo of a mother and a daughter taken from a Japanese soldier they had just killed.

Ugly recollections from war wanting to be masked need not come from battlefields, bullets or bombs.