Kim Ida Surh on Freedom

Post written by Summer Espinoza, Director of Archives and Special Collections at Go For Broke National Education Center


As I reflect on this Independence Day weekend, I hope sharing this brief segment from Kim Ida Surh’s oral history interview will resonate and inspire others to reflect on the meaning of patriotism and freedom as it inspired me.

Surh was born in Nogales, Arizona in 1915, grew up in Los Angeles, California and volunteered as an Army nurse in World War Two. Surh explains what patriotism and freedom meant to her and why she felt compelled to volunteer.

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CLICK HERE TO VIEW INTERVIEW SEGMENT
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The Power of Oral Histories

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Director of Education & Exhibits at Go For Broke National Education Center


Our oral histories are a treasure.  Ask any family member who has seen their loved one on camera, opening up about their war experience in a way both beautiful and sorrowful.  For many of these families, this is the first time that their loved one has spoken openly about the war, and over the course of our filming, these families get to learn more about their loved ones than they had previously known.

I myself am not Japanese American, but I had two cousins who fought for our country in World War II.  How I wish that both of them could have had the chance to sit down and record their oral histories.  Because they never had this opportunity, I know very little about their wartime experiences.

Bernie Brusatte was 21.  He enlisted alongside his cousin Ray Brusatte, also 21, on October 7, 1942.  Of that much I know, but little else.  Why did they join?  What motivated them?  What were their thoughts about the war, their sacrifices, about leaving their families behind?

I definitely had the chance to ask my cousin Bernie about his experiences before he passed away when I was in high school, but I never did.  I wish that I would have.  I don’t know if he would have felt comfortable sharing his experiences, but I at least should have asked.

Thanks to our organization, almost 1,200 World War II veterans have been able to share their personal stories.  Their families – and also generations of historians, students, and the general public – now have the ability to watch the footage of their interviews and learn about their courageous lives.  Even hundreds of years into the future, their stories will not be lost.  Even after the last of this remarkable WWII generation has passed, their primary accounts will live on.  Our oral history videos ensure that.

Even though I can never revisit the chance to sit down with my cousins and talk to them about the war, I can at least view the oral histories of their contemporaries.  Through these stories, I feel that I can learn a little bit about the time in which my cousins lived, and the circumstances that they were called to face with courage.  I invite you all to do the same.  Check out our website.  View one of these courageous men’s oral history videos.  I promise you that you will be glad that you did.

http://www.goforbroke.org/oral_histories/oral_histories_video.php

Footsteps left by Nisei Soldiers

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Director of Education & Exhibits at Go For Broke National Education Center


Footsteps.  That is perhaps what archives and historical documents leave us.  A well-worn path, trodden by the footsteps of those who have gone before us.  The person may be gone, but his marks remain along the path.  His journey may be over, but it can influence ours which is just beginning.

Some of our oral histories acknowledge this fact rather straight-forwardly.  For example, World War II veteran Hideo Kami told us that his interview will help “show others that what we did is for our country, and then I hope that they’ll follow our footsteps.”  Yoshio Matsumoto concurs.  “You should be grateful for the things that people who have gone before have done for you.  Don’t take things for granted.”  Jun Shiosaki wants young people today to seek out the path already trod before them by the Nisei veterans, who “paved the way and gave the younger generations the opportunity to do the things that they’re doing.”

So the path is there.  The footsteps remain.  Our life of courage can begin by following their valorous steps.  But we also have to extend the effort ourselves and know that our situations are sometimes different.  As Masaji Inoshita told our interviewers, “I’m not telling you, you gotta do this, I’m not telling you you gotta follow a certain principle.  I got to tell you, you have to follow your own heart.”  So the footsteps are there, but we must actively see which parts of the path most fit our modern situations.  As Inoshita continued, “You have to find out for yourself what you have to do to make this world smoother and rounder.”

Such powerful words, such wise words.  The lessons of the past are there for us, ever present as our guides.  But we too must exert effort in adapting them to our own situations.  And in the end, it completely falls to us whether we follow their courageous example or forget about their lives, much to our own peril.  Ultimately it’s up to us.  The footsteps are there, the path is in front of us, but we have to make the effort to start the journey.  As veteran Richard “Dick” Narasaki told us, “no doubt that our experience is important.  But how the next generation reacts to it is something else again.  I don’t know whether they’ll look upon it and think, ‘That’s somebody else’s life; it has no effect on mine,’ or whether they will take it to heart saying ‘Hey, they gave us a building block, let’s build on it.’”

Our archives are here for your guidance.  The footsteps remain visible.  Let’s build on it.

From MIS to NBA

Post written by Erin Sato, Assistant Archivist at  Go For Broke National Education Center


While cataloging records for the interviewees from the Hanashi Oral History Project, I came across a very interesting individual by the name of Wataru Misaka. He is not only known for being a Military Intelligence Service veteran who participated in the occupation of Japan, but also for being the first Japanese American to be drafted into the NBA (National Basketball Association).

Wataru “Wat” Misaka was born in Ogden, Utah to two Issei parents from Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. At a young age, Wat took an interest in sports, playing on various sports teams starting in junior high school, and continuing into high school and college. Luckily, he and his family were not forcibly removed into an incarceration camp after the implementation of Executive Order 9066, so he was able to continue his education at Weber Junior College (now Weber State University) and later at the University of Utah.   

While attending his first year at the University of Utah in 1944, he helped the basketball team win the NCAA and NIT (National Invitational Tournament) Championship. As soon as he returned home from New York, Wat received his draft notice and reported to Fort Douglas, Utah for his induction into the US Army. He completed his basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and was reassigned to military language training at Camp Savage, and later, Fort Snelling, Minnesota. After completing language training, Wat was shipped to the Philippines, then to Tokyo where he was assigned as an interviewer for the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) team.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.watmisaka.com

Wat returned to the United States after receiving his discharge in 1946, where he continued his studies and re-joined the basketball team at the University of Utah. A year later, he helped his team win the NIT (National Invitation Tournament) Championship in New York. Back then, the National Invitation Tournament was the top college basketball tournament that a college team could qualify to compete in (equivalent to the NCAA college tournament today).

In that same year, Wat was drafted by the New York Knicks, becoming the first Japanese American to play in the NBA. This was a huge milestone, considering this was a time when people of color had little presence within the professional sports world. “The thing that makes it special to me,” Wat said in his Hanashi oral history interview, “is that I was the first, and maybe the only, Japanese American to ever play on a national basketball championship team. And I was the first non-white to get drafted into, what is now, the NBA. Jackie Robinson […] played for the Yankees in 1947 and he was the first black that year, but that was something really tremendous because blacks were forbidden to play up until then. There was no such restrictions on Japanese Americans, but still I was the first, and up to now, the only one, I guess.” When asked in his interview if he was treated like a celebrity, he responds: “No. It was not that big of a deal, you know. It’s still not that big a deal, but it’s something that I am proud of.”

Countdown to Opening Day: The “Defining Courage” Exhibition

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


Our new exhibition, which opens to the public on May 28 in Los Angeles, features dynamic hands-on and participatory activities.  These exhibits use hundreds of photos and video clips from our collections, and it is the hard work of archivists that has made this possible.

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Go For Broke National Education Center presents the “Defining Courage” exhibition, scheduled to open on Saturday, May 28, 2016.

One activity, called Media Maker, allows visitors to create their own mini-documentaries about the Japanese American World War II experience.  On digital touch-screens, visitors are given libraries of historical photographs, videos, documents, quotes, and clips from our Hanashi oral history collection.  They use these assets to create their own unique 3-5 minute video, which they then share with the world via social media.

Another exhibit, called Piece It Together, lets visitors step into the shoes of young Japanese Americans during the World War II era.  Visitors are forced to make decisions, such as “Will I join the military or will I resist the draft?,” and their decisions define the circumstances that they face and the people whom they meet.  This computer-based activity uses hundreds of historic photographs, videos, and documents from our archival collections.

These are just two of the many dynamic activities that make up our new exhibition.  Visitors will literally see thousands of images and film resources, thanks to the hard work of our archivists.  The past will be brought to life through these photographs and videos, and thousands of young adults will learn the courage, virtues, sacrifices, and patriotism of the Japanese Americans who lived during the tumultuous years of World War II.

Come to visit our new exhibition when it opens on Saturday May 28, and if you have the chance to see an archivist, make sure to thank them for all that they’ve done to make this experience possible!

Visit www.goforbroke.org for more information about the exhibition and its public opening.

Using History as a Guide for the Future

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


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“Study your past, because he who does not know the past may be in for a difficult future.”

– Senator Daniel Inouye

Can history truly be relevant today?  Can things that happened seventy years ago teach us anything?  Or is the study of history simply boring at worst and entertaining storytelling at best?  Sure, stories from the past can be fascinating, enthralling, and emotional, but is history only like your favorite sitcom – entertainment with no impact to the world today?

The late Senator Daniel Inouye didn’t think so.  The quote above comes from our oral history interview of the war-hero-turned-statesman, preserved in our Hanashi archives.  For Senator Inouye, history teaches lessons for today.  The stories and accounts of the past must be used to avoid repeating mistakes in the present.  Since hindsight is 20-20, the modern generation can look back honestly on the triumphs and the mistakes of past generations, and work diligently to repeat the former and avoid the latter.  History gives us the “playbook,” so to speak, of which actions to follow and which to prevent.

That is why our Hanashi oral history archives is so invaluable.  We have preserved for posterity the stories – and advice – of almost 1,200 men and women who lived through the harsh times of World War II.  They witnessed hardships and triumphs; rejection and acceptance; hatred and love.  Their lessons can help guide us as we embark upon our own voyages, in an equally complex world.  All that it takes is sitting down, plugging in some headphones, and listening to their sage advice.

To listen to and view our oral histories, please visit:

http://www.goforbroke.org/oral_histories/oral_histories_video.php

Expressions of Courage

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


A friend of mine was told that the President of the United States was coming to visit his military base.  He had served in the Army for over a year, and on this Easter holiday he would get the chance to see his Commander in Chief.  He and his fellow soldiers bedecked themselves in their dress uniforms, and were told to march.  They expected to be led to where the President was arriving.

Instead, they marched and marched until they were led into a warehouse with only a single door.  Held at gunpoint, they were placed under armed guard until the President had left the base.  They were told to remain completely silent and needed an armed escort to use the restroom.  Only later were they allowed to return to their barracks.  Still in their dress uniforms, most stared blankly without talking.  The humiliation and the outrage were palpable.

The year was 1943.  These American soldiers, treated so unjustly while serving their country so selflessly, were all of Japanese ancestry.  They were treated so disdainfully because the United States was at war with Japan, and racism and hatred were directed at anyone with Japanese blood.  My friend was about 23 years old that fateful Easter Sunday.  He was as American as the next guy, a young man from a farm community in Oregon.  The humiliation that he felt was one of the last straws for him.  He was sick of being treated like the enemy.  He was an American soldier for heaven’s sakes!

My friend’s parents were meanwhile imprisoned, like the 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, in an incarceration camp run by our government.  They were imprisoned simply because of their Japanese ancestry.  My friend wanted to use his furlough to visit his parents in the camp, but the Army wouldn’t let him.  Why?  Because the camp was in California, a zone “restricted” to all Japanese Americans who were not behind the barbed wire of the camp.  This occurred shortly before the fateful visit of the President, and it was yet another injustice which angered my friend.  An American soldier, he could not even visit his parents as they were being jailed by his own government.

In March 1944, my friend was sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama.  He was ordered to begin combat training to be deployed overseas.  Since September of the previous year, Japanese Americans had been fighting and dying in horrific battles on Italian soil.  My friend had had enough.  He felt that his battle was right here, at home.  He had to fight the unjust treatment that he and his family were facing in America.  Only then might he consider fighting, killing, and possibly dying in the battles against foreign enemies overseas.  He made a fateful determination that would shape the rest of his life: he would refuse to undergo combat training, in protest of the unjust and unconstitutional treatment that he and all Japanese Americans were facing.

He knew that he would face harsh punishment, and he did.  He was court martialed and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.  He was dishonorably discharged from the Army and lost his benefits.  He was even threatened with facing a firing squad.  He eventually served about two years in prison before being released early.  Throughout it all, he remained steadfast in his belief that he had done the right thing, and he never regretted standing up for his constitutional rights.

To me, my friend is a hero.  He faced prejudice with courage, even putting his own life on the line for it.  He knew that his actions would lead to new obstacles: prison, eviction from the Army, and a lifelong stigma that many still hold against him.  Because he didn’t face bullets overseas, many of his contemporaries derided him as a “coward.”  Many probably still do today.  But my friend doesn’t mind.  He knows that his actions prove his courage.  He knows that he could have been executed for his choices.  He knows that he fought the same American fight as Martin Luther King Jr. and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, but fifteen years before.  He risked his life to make America stand for what it claims to stand for: a land of equality and justice for all of its peoples.  Because of his courage, more Americans are free today.

Unfortunately, not enough people know about my friend or his brave actions.  That is why our Archives is so important.  With each additional story that we tell – through oral histories, photographs, and documents – the actions of individuals like my friend become preserved for posterity.  Without the hard work of our Archives staff, many of these stories would be lost to future generations.  So please, make sure to always preserve the history of your own ancestors, and with passion and energy share the legacy of courageous individuals like my friend who risked so much for a better America.  Thank you.

Ralph Shigeto Iwamoto: Artist and Soldier

Post written by Summer Espinoza, Project Manager at Go For Broke National Education Center


From the Hanashi Oral History Project Archives, recorded July 26, 2006.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1927, Ralph Shigeto Iwamoto is possibly more widely known for his work as an abstract expressionist artist than his military service.  Similarly lesser known in the narrative of the Nisei soldier is the unit in which he served during the Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952.  Iwamoto was a member of the 441st Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment stationed in the Second Region of the Counter Intelligence Corps, Area 26 or Saitama Prefecture. During his service in Saitama, he was involved with information-gathering and community relation activities. He was often sent to political demonstrations where he mingled with Japanese civilians and tried to blend in wearing his kimono.  Lightheartedly, he describes employing a friend to help him translate the speeches at these demonstrations. As a young nineteen year old, he was charged with interpreting highly specialized military language as well; this baffled him. His charge was about taking the pulse of civilian life and activities and building relationships with local officials and authoritative figures.

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Photos collected by Ralph Iwamoto. Ralph Shigero Iwamoto oral history interview, July 2006.

Iwamoto’s artistic profession and his military experiences aren’t highly investigated in the somewhat linear telling of the Nisei soldier narrative.  As someone involved in making these stories known, Iwamoto’s oral history caught my attention when I found a representation of his painting Eastern Twilight. I immediately questioned how his military experience and culture influenced and shaped his work, his identity and the identity of his artistic expression. Did it at all?  What did Japan look like thru the eyes of an artist and soldier?  Perhaps Iwamoto’s interview doesn’t offer the clearest of answers to these questions; perhaps his use of the octagon as the source shape for his more abstract work, as he suggests, doesn’t have any profound relationship with his personal story.  But, to paraphrase what knowledge he offers at the end of his interview: tell your own truth.  His truth and his story is more than creating art or being a soldier, it is about staying true “to that thing that is in [him], that’s [what] you have to do.” In sharing his story, in creating his art, perhaps he does in fact widen the truths of the Nisei soldier experience and the artist as well.

(Eastern Twilight was created in 1957 and is owned by the Butler Institute of Art. www.butlerartcollection.com)

Talk to A Veteran, Listen to their Stories

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


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“We try to do our share to keep the story of the 442nd going.  We try to make sure that the story – the legacy – is left behind.  But I tell people, ‘Don’t put us on a pedestal where you don’t want to talk to us.  We’re just your regular brothers, your uncles, your dads.’” 

– Henry “Hank” Yoshitake, Veteran of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team

Our collection of oral history interviews has literally thousands of powerful quotes, stories, lessons, and anecdotes.  The above is one of my favorites.  It comes from World War II veteran Henry “Hank” Yoshitake, who was in Company A of the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

One of the most difficult things to do is to realize that our “heroes” were and are just ordinary people.  Yes, they showed courage that most of us cannot even imagine, sacrificed their very lives, and made America the country that it is today.  But they are also just normal men and women, often who have faced many of the same daily joys and sorrows that we ourselves face.  The men of the 100th, 442nd, and MIS were not superhuman, even though their actions often seemed as such.

That is why I like Mr. Yoshitake’s quote so much.  He is aware that most people view him and his fellow veterans as untouchable heroes in the community, up upon pedestals and out of reach.  They are seen as unapproachable: heroes to be praised, not simple friends to start up a conversation with.  And it saddens him.  Because so many younger people see him as a “hero” and not as a “normal person” like themselves, they are often too intimidated to start up conversations.  And in this disconnect, the history fails to be passed on.  Sure, the lore of the veterans’ accomplishments lives on, but the very human struggles that they overcome are forgotten within simple hero worship.

To me, Mr. Yoshitake and his fellow veterans become even more heroic when I remember that they are just ordinary people like ourselves.  They had no superpowers, which would have made their job easy.  Instead, they relied upon their own astounding courage, valor, and character.  Victory was never assured.  Their job was never easy.  And yet they still overcame all of these difficulties with a bravery and perseverance that should be a model for all people.  They were normal young men, and their astounding valor and heroics should be an inspiration to us, proving that we can act likewise in whatever endeavors we face.

So please, listen to Mr. Yoshitake’s advice.  Talk with the veterans.  Start a conversation.  Listen.  Sure, we should still call them “heroes,” because they are.  But we should also call them “friends.”  They are our grandfathers, our uncles, our neighbors, our pals.  Pull up a chair and start a conversation with them, and learn their story.  It truly will astound you what ordinary human beings can do!

Check out Mr. Yoshitake’s entire interview here: http://www.goforbroke.org/oral_histories/oral_histories_video.php

Moments of Serenity within a World of War

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


 

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Rohwer, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of the family of Satoru Nakamura.

This is one of my all-time favorite photographs in our collection.  Sure, the quality is a little blurry.  True, it is hard to make out any individual face.  As a piece of “art,” this photograph would definitely not grace the walls of a photography shop.  But that is not the point.

As a snapshot of history, of daily life, of human emotions, this photograph is hard to beat.  Two Japanese American soldiers, on leave in the midst of World War II, “jump rope with the kiddies” as they visit their incarcerated families in Rowher, Arkansas.  Other soldiers stand and watch.  Both the children and the servicemen have looks of joy on their faces.

What were the soldiers thinking?  How about the “kiddies”?  The soldiers were in the midst of a horrific war, knowing that their next overseas assignment could very well end in death.  The children were locked up in an incarceration camp, surrounded by barbed wire and far away from their homes.  What were they thinking?  What was going through their minds?

I would like to think that in this very moment, all that crossed their minds was a sunny day, a fun game of jump rope, and the wide grins of those around them.  I smile thinking that perhaps all of them were lost in this moment, temporarily forgetting about the horrors of the battlefield and the injustices of the camps.

Where are these people now?  What happened to the smiling soldiers, the grinning kids, in the moments, months, and years after the camera caught this shot?  Did the soldiers survive the war?  Did the children go on to do great things in an increasingly tolerant America?  Did any of them remember this beautiful sunny day, when for a single moment they could forget about their many troubles?

I hope so.  And as I look at this photograph I can’t help but see the beauty of humanity even in the midst of war.  A smile can light up even the worst of times in even the bleakest of places.  Sometimes all that it takes is a jump rope, a sunny day, and a good group of friends.