Fresno State 9066 Exhibition features GFBNEC Archives

Post written by Gavin Do, Assistant Director of Archives and Special Collections at GFBNEC.


The only thing is this, that—I guess I haven’t come up with the saying yet, but the thing that I lost was the worst, and that’s what makes me stronger. And that is, when you were thrown from a free life into a camp without a trial, and just thrown in there by your government, they have taken your freedom away from you. Okay, this is not like going into jail and put behind barbed—behind bars and having your freedom taken away from you, this is a freedom that is inside of you and the only way I can explain it is like somebody taking a knife and cuttin’ your heart out, and you can’t explain it. And you fight for the rest of your life trying to get it back.

-George Morihiro, Minidoka Concentration Camp incarceree, 442nd Regimental Combat Team 

February 19th marked the 75th anniversary of the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066; this infamous act authorized the government to begin forcibly removing Japanese Americans from the West Coast and incarcerating them in desolate camps. There was no trial, no witnesses, and court cases opened decades later proved that the evidence supporting EO 9066 was largely fabricated and inaccurate.

 

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The Henry Madden Library at Fresno State presents the 9066: Japanese American Voices from the Inside Exhibition.

Go For Broke National Education Center recently received an invitation from Fresno State University to participate in their collaborative exhibition called 9066: Japanese Voices from the Inside, which appropriately debuted on February 19.

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Materials on display from the Go For Broke National Education Center archives.

We had the proud distinction to be the only participant that focuses on the military/veteran narrative of the Japanese American World War II experience. The exhibition strives to encapsulate the incarceration experience of those 120,000 Japanese Americans who were unlawfully detained and incarcerated during the war. It is inherently an impossible task to design one exhibition to describe the experiences of so many, but it also seeks to tell personal stories and to paint a picture of the daily lives of the families. GFBNEC was able to contribute to the exhibition by curating content from their archives that tells the story of the Nisei soldiers who volunteered for service from the incarceration camps.

Being displayed are personal photographs, letters, and memorabilia from veterans representing the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

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Visitors viewing display on Opening Day, February 19, 2017.

The hope is that by putting these materials on display, the public will gain an understanding of what these veterans went through and what they fought for. They didn’t simply face adversity on the battlefield, but were forced to face injustices at home; while their families were being detained, these veterans faced worries not just for themselves in the Pacific and European theaters, but also for their loved ones in places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Gila River, Poston, Granada, Rohwer, and Jerome.

Ultimately, my words cannot do justice to the bravery and loyalty of these veterans. Hopefully, the materials on exhibit can help a visitor come to this conclusion: while these veterans are in their own way larger-than-life war heroes, they are also in many ways just normal people that showed extraordinary courage and bravery when it mattered most. These people are parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, like you and me; yet, their actions speak louder than words ever could. I hope that all of us can follow their example and display even an inkling of the courage they have.

Fresno State’s 9066 Exhibition will be on display until June 2nd, 2017. For more information on the exhibition, please visit https://library.fresnostate.edu/content/9066-exhibition.

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A Life of Honor

Yesterday morning, as I was scrolling across the news of the day and having my morning coffee, I saw something that caught my eye and gave me pause. September 7th would have been the 92nd birthday of 442nd veteran and U.S. Senator (D-HI) Daniel K. Inouye. The realization did not shock me with surprise, as Senator Inouye unfortunately passed away four years ago in 2012. Instead, my thoughts fully deviated to him more due to remembering what he, along with so many more Nisei veterans, accomplished during their lifetimes.

Daniel Ken Inouye was born on September 7, 1924 in Honolulu, Hawaii to an Issei father and a mother who was adopted by Caucasian Methodists in Hawaii. He recalls his grandfather instilling Japanese values and culture in him as a child, while his parents taught him the values of work ethic and sacrifice. These lessons would be put to great use.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Daniel Inouye was having what he thought was a normal Sunday morning. He was listening to the radio while waiting to go to church with his family, something countless other Americans surely did. As the music abruptly cut off and the residents of Hawaii began realizing what was taking place, Inouye vividly recalled in his oral history interview his memory of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:

“Three planes…pearl gray with a red dot…flew overhead after their run across Pearl Harbor. I felt that my life had come to an end at that point because obviously the pilot in that plane looked like me.”

Daniel Inouye immediately rushed from his home to fulfill his duties as a medical volunteer at an aid station, disregarding his own safety. This would not be the last time Inouye would act in such a manner. In 1943, when the Army began allowing Japanese Americans to volunteer for military service, Inouye enlisted and was assigned to the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. One of his earliest memories of his time in the service is during basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. Inouye was one of the Hawaiian Nisei soldiers that visited the incarceration camps in Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas, a visit that was pivotal in galvanizing the Mainland Nisei and Hawaiian Nisei soldiers, who had been constantly fighting amongst each other up to that point. In his oral history interview, Senator Inouye went as far to recall that military leadership contemplated disbanding the 442nd RCT and scattering the soldiers across the country. That is a sobering thought because it is difficult to imagine how drastically different our nation’s history would be without the combined 100th Battalion/442nd RCT.

While fighting in the Gothic Line campaign in Italy, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel Inouye would have perhaps his defining moment of the war, performing actions that would earn him a Distinguished Service Cross that would later be upgraded to a Medal of Honor. On April 21, 1945 while in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy (in Tuscany) 2nd Lieutenant Inouye eliminated three German machine gun nests with only grenades and his Thompson submachine gun. He did all of this despite being wounded in the stomach by a sniper’s bullet before even engaging the first machine gun nest and being shot in the right arm by an exploding grenade fired from a German soldier’s rifle. Mind you, this wound was even more gruesome considering Inouye still had a live grenade clenched in his right hand, which he could no longer control because of the injury. Obviously, the simple solution for 2nd Lt. Inouye was to peel the grenade from his clenched right fist using his left hand and complete the mission by destroying the last machine gun nest. He followed that by directing his men into defensive positions for an hour, all while still seriously wounded. I don’t even think Hollywood could write a scene that captures such heroism and sacrifice. Only Daniel Inouye could accomplish that through his actions.

When now-Captain Daniel Inouye returned to Hawaii after the conclusion of the war (minus his right arm) he had to abandon his dreams of becoming a physician and instead turned to politics. The United States, and probably the world, is a better place today because of that single decision. Inouye began his political career by serving as a member of the Hawaiian territorial House of Representatives and later the Hawaiian territorial Senate. When Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, Inouye won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as Hawaii’s first member. In 1962, he would win his first of nine elections for Senator of Hawaii. Senator Inouye never lost an election or primary in his entire political career and eventually became the highest-ranking Asian American politician in U.S. history due to his time as President pro tempore in the Senate. Senator Inouye served on countless committees and forged fruitful bipartisan relationships during his career. He always represented Hawaii with the highest sense of integrity. Upon his death in 2012, members of both parties in a divided Congress gathered to mourn the loss of someone who President Obama simply (yet truthfully) described as “a true American hero.”

In his oral history interview recorded for our Hanashi oral history project, Senator Inouye recalled that his father always urged him to not bring shame upon their family. He followed with an anecdote recalling how so many of his fellow Nisei soldiers also expressed their desire to not bring shame to their families. It is safe to say that Senator Daniel Inouye, along with his fellow Nisei veterans, accomplished that goal with great success.

To view Senator Daniel Inouye’s Hanashi oral history interview, please refer to our website: http://www.goforbroke.org/learn/archives/oral_histories_videos.php?clip=13701

The Hiroshi Sugiyama Collection: Uncovering Layers

Since I began my time with Go For Broke National Education Center, one of the exciting projects I have been able to take on is processing the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection. This opportunity came about as I stumbled upon a picture from Sugiyama’s collection and proceeded to briefly research his story and publish it in this blog.

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Items from the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection processed by Gavin Do. The following items include (left to right): Sugiyama’s Purple Heart citation; leather portfolio with life insurance documents; and monogrammed ring.

As Sugiyama’s story began to emerge and become more visible, our archives department began to use his collection as an example to continue asking questions that apply to our non-digital archives collections here at Go For Broke. These questions included:

Where did this collection come from?

How did GFBNEC acquire this collection?

Who are the people represented in these collections?

Where are the locations that are represented in these collections?

What are the dates of events or items represented in these collections?

Does this fit into the Nisei soldier narrative that we are attempting to tell?

There are many more questions that we have had to ask as a staff regarding our collections. Luckily, our questions were met with answers in the case of the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection. Archivists use the term provenance in order to describe where items or a collection has been or come from in its past, starting from the origin with the creator to its current whereabouts (and everything in between). For the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection, we are initially unaware of the provenance of the collection other than that many of the items came from Hiroshi himself. We were in luck, however, because our archives staff was able to find information regarding the provenance of the Sugiyama collection. Staff found a copy Torch from 2006 that publicized the purchase of the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection from an auction. While that explained where the collection came from, the collection still needed to be physically processed. Upon doing that, we realized that a number of items were missing from the collection. Upon reviewing the paperwork, however, we came to the conclusion that the missing items were not missing, but actually on loan to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Finding an old press release, featuring our own Don Seki of the 442nd RCT, confirmed these thoughts:

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Wells, Annie –– – 131981.ME.1220.stamp Press conference at The Museum of Tolerance for support of Japanese American WWII vets to get a US postage stamp in their honor. Don Seki, of the 100th Infantry Battalion, stands in front of a display case at the museum that contains artifacts of Hiroshi Sugiyama, a medic in the US Army who earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Good Conduct medal. Sugiyama was killed while administering first aid to a wounded soldier near Tendola, Italy.photo by Annie Wells 12/20/07. Courtesy of Getty Images. Editorial #563981693. Part of LA Times Collection.

We have since contacted the Museum of Tolerance and had very pleasant conversations with them regarding continued collaboration with the Hiroshi Sugiyama Collection.

The purpose of this blog post is multifaceted. For one, I always love bringing more attention to the Hiroshi Sugiyama Collection. I think it is a collection full of history, context, and research value that tells the story of a brave soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice. Secondly, I think that it is important that as an archives staff, we explain and display what we do and how we do it. Archives is admittedly a very obscure and abstract field of work, and we want to be transparent with the community about our developments. We recognize that Go For Broke is an organization that has a team of outstanding volunteers and supporters, and we rely on all of you to survive. The supporters need to be kept in the loop.

That being said, we as an archives staff want to express our excitement that items from the Hiroshi Sugiyama collection are on exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance. Their exposure and traffic will allow the collection to tell the story of Hiroshi Sugiyama, and by extension, the story of the Nisei soldier.

The Past Shaping Our Future

Post written by Gavin Do, Associate Archivist at Go For Broke National Education Center


One of the consistent themes that our beloved Nisei veterans always made sure to emphasize during their oral history interviews was not allowing the past – specifically their past, riddled with injustice– to repeat itself.  The theme of the past being repeated finds itself manifested in many phrases, adages, and clichés, for good reason. This time, I wanted to change it up and share a specific quote that I came across while reading a poignant, touching essay written by a veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Tadashi Tojo.

To provide some context, I want to note that Mr. Tojo wrote the essay about a singular incident during his experience as a member of the 522nd: coming across a satellite slave labor camp of the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. At that time, the 522nd had been detached from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was aiding in the Allies’ final push into southern Germany. During this campaign, Nisei soldiers from the 522nd stumbled upon the subcamp and found it abandoned by the German Army. The numerous accounts from the 522nd veterans all describe a horrific scene that demonstrated the most sickening depths that human beings could stoop to in order to torture and inflict suffering on others, simply for existing and living in a manner their oppressors did not deem fit.  Many members of the 522nd also noted the irony in which a group of oppressed American soldiers of Japanese ancestry would help liberate a group of oppressed European Jews.

Aside from the passages describing his memories of the experience, there were two quotes that Mr. Tojo included which stuck out to me. After questioning how atrocities such as the Holocaust could have occurred, Mr. Tojo seemed to ask a simple question that everyone inherently wonders in times of adversity: “To me, when and where this inhumanity will end remains the paramount question.” Mr. Tojo also made sure to include what he considered words of wisdom from the noted playwright Eugene O’Neill: “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again – now.”

These two quotes, considered simultaneously, paint an admittedly bleak picture of the world and humanity. The world, and our human existence, being cycles of inhumane acts is a bit of a pessimistic exaggeration. Instead, I like to think Mr. Tojo wrote these words more so as a reminder, a warning, and a call to action. Instead of observing this cycle of inhumanity as mere witnesses, Nisei veterans like Mr. Tadashi Tojo remind us to stand strong and simply do what is right and just. As we live in what can be an incredibly divisive world today, it can be difficult to exhibit the same courage and follow that lead. In order to break the cycle of injustice and inhumanity, however, it takes exceptional courage and conviction to follow through and act with purpose to show our fellow person compassion.

Luckily, we have the Nisei soldiers, their stories, and their collective legacy to help serve as a reminder to act courageously in our daily lives, similar to the manner in which they did, and continue to do. In addition to our oral history interviews, Go For Broke National Education Center will unveil an exhibit, Defining Courage, in late May. This interactive exhibit will demonstrate that the courage displayed by the Nisei veterans is still meaningful and applicable to our contemporary society. This exhibit is proof that the words and actions of the Nisei veterans did not fall upon deaf ears.

Lastly, I would like to circle back to Mr. Tojo and highlight his insightfulness and wisdom once more. In his oral history interview, Mr. Tojo takes the time to discuss his essay and he later segues to sharing additional thoughts brought on by discussing the quote from Eugene O’Neill. Mr. Tojo expressed his belief that in this world, individuals must take the care to show their fellow human beings compassion. He explains that his war experiences and the horrors that he had witnessed only made him certain of one thing: simply put, he does not know the solution to mending the fractured relationships that exist in the world. He does think, however, that finding inner peace, showing compassion to one’s fellow person, and acting considerately towards others are all positive, significant steps towards making the world a better place. Having the courage to follow this advice may seem difficult, but making a positive impact is rarely easy.

The Nisei veterans have the reputation of being brave and humble patriots who tenaciously defended their country without a second thought to the hardship and sacrifice that lay ahead of them. Let us not forget, however, how wise these men are. Listening to the words from veterans such as Mr. Tadashi Tojo serves as a reminder that the legacy of the Nisei soldier is a rich, deep, and powerful story that demonstrates courage in all facets of life. That story of courage can help mold our present into a more united, compassionate future by reminding us of our past triumphs, along with our past mistakes.

An “Unselfish Devotion to Duty”

Post written by Gavin Do, Associate Archivist at Go For Broke National Education Center


Battlefields, combat, and wars are so often depicted and dramatized in media. Countless television shows and movies portray the bravery, tragedy, pain, and heroism commonly associated with soldiers’ war experiences.  Since these works of art are mostly meant to simultaneously entertain and educate us, there is ultimately always that lack of complete authenticity when compared to a primary source.

With this post, I want to display a photograph from Go For Broke National Education Center’s archives and explain the context of the photo to help highlight the often overlooked sacrifice of the Army Medic.

Hiroshi Sugiyama was a Technician Fifth Grade in the medic detachment of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Because of laws and agreements put into place by the Geneva Convention, medical personnel were to be treated as non-combatants by the enemy. That is, they were not to be targeted or fired upon intentionally during combat, and they were to be given due opportunity to treat and remove wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Medical personnel were even easily recognizable by the Red Cross insignia they wore on their armbands and/or helmet for their protection. This did not make medics immune from battlefield danger, however, as some enemy troops (especially snipers) would recognize the Red Cross and specifically target medical personnel to cripple troop morale and eliminate the possibility of any life-saving medical services during combat. Despite this fact, medics would still routinely rush into the field to aid the wounded, putting themselves in grave danger in the process.

At the end of March 1945, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was sent to Italy to break through the Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains. As a part of this campaign, 3rd Battalion’s K Company engaged German forces in order to capture the town of Tendola. As American troops were advancing, they came under fire from German machine guns, machine pistols, and snipers. During the American withdrawal, a rifleman was hit and was unable to move. Disregarding his own safety, Hiroshi Sugiyama rushed to the side of the wounded soldier and began administering treatment. While he was tending to the soldier, an enemy sniper disregarded Sugiyama’s Red Cross emblem and fired, killing him instantly. Technician Fifth Grade Hiroshi Sugiyama died on April 22, 1945, a week before German troops in Italy would surrender. This information was included in the Bronze Star decoration that Sugiyama was awarded posthumously. One of the last lines of the commendation reads:

“Technician Fifth Grade Sugiyama’s unselfish devotion to duty reflects highest credit on the United States Army.”

Considering that Hiroshi Sugiyama volunteered for the Army from Topaz Concentration Camp in Utah, that sentence is a vast understatement.

The featured photo of this post comes from Go For Broke’s photograph collection from Hiroshi Sugiyama’s family. This specific photograph portrays Hiroshi Sugiyama’s funeral at Golden Gate National Cemetery near Sugiyama’s home of San Francisco. While the identity of the gentleman receiving the condolence flag is not completely clear, it is very likely that it is Sergeant Shinobu P. Sugiyama, a fellow member of the 442nd’s K Company and (more significantly) Hiroshi’s brother. What is clear, however, is the pain and grief on this gentleman’s face.

Much of the wartime propaganda produced by the U.S. Government focused on demonizing the enemy through skewed photographic representations. Americans naturally associated Japanese Americans with the portrayals of Japanese soldiers and lashed out at their fellow citizens. Looking at this photograph, however, no one would be able to accurately say that it portrays anything except the quintessential values of Americanism.

In closing, it is important to reflect on the legacy of the Nisei soldier and how it was built. While many returned from the war and continued fighting prejudice in order to build successful careers and lives, others were not afforded the same opportunity. Some, like Medic Hiroshi Sugiyama, laid down their lives to fulfill their duty of saving others. As someone who has made it their career to preserve stories and legacies, a single photo such as this one can make a huge impact and say more than words could ever do. Saving items such as this photo are why archives are so important and crucial moving forward.