Japanese American Women in the Military

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Exhibit Manager at Go For Broke National Education Center


Did you know that Japanese American women also volunteered for the Army during World War II?  Sue (Ogata) Kato was one of these women, and our archives contains a beautiful oral history interview with her.  She tells of her American upbringing, the discrimination that she faced for being of Japanese ancestry, the patriotism that she felt when war broke out, and the experience that she had serving in the Women’s Army Corps.  Her interview is a treasure trove of information, telling the Japanese American WWII experience from the all-too-elusive female perspective.

Sue was only 22 when she reported for basic training.  Although she would never have to face bullets overseas, her enlistment in the Army took remarkable courage.  She was breaking barriers and confronting gender-based stereotypes.  As Sue relates in our oral history:

“My oldest sister was worried.  She says, ‘You’re gonna lose all your friends,’ because she had this idea, a woman joining the men’s army.  Heavens, she probably thought I had lost my good senses too you know.”

Sue’s father also did not initially share Sue’s enthusiasm for joining the Army.  But Sue’s patriotism and her reasoning were strong.  She joined to help America and to enable more men to fight overseas.  “Yes, I went to relieve the boys,” Sue tells the interviewer. “I know they were chomping at the bit, you know, [stuck at the Army’s] desk jobs.”  Because Sue and other women joined the Army and took over their stateside bureaucratic duties, countless men could join the front lines overseas.

But Sue also had the same chip on her soldier that many Japanese American males had.  Distrusted by her own country, she too wanted to join the Army in order to prove that she was just as patriotic as anyone else.  “I know [that] I was waving a flag,” she relates.  “I was trying to prove my Americanism too.”

And prove it she did.  Sue served her country admirably in the Women’s Army Corps, rising to staff sergeant.  Her work broke both gender and racial barriers, and she faced down prejudice with courage.  Sue’s story is just one of the almost 1,200 in our oral history collection, and it is yet another example of how individuals acted with such courage against outstanding odds.  World War II is their story, and it is up to us to forever remember it.

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