Go For Broke Archives at the 2016 OHA Conference

The GFBNEC Archives team will be attending the Oral History Association (OHA) Annual Meeting on Friday, October 14th, 2016 in Long Beach, California. We will be giving a presentation about the work we have been conducting using the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS). OHMS is a web-based application created by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral Histories at the University of Kentucky Libraries, and is used to import and index oral history interviews. We are using OHMS to catalog and index our oral history interviews from our Hanashi Oral History Project.

Example of a Hanashi oral history interview that has been indexed in OHMS.

Our presentation is going to be a part of a larger panel discussion called “Discovery in the Digisphere: Oral history at the intersection of technology, archival technique, and the law.” We will be discussing our own experience with using OHMS, and how it has become an integral part of our workflow within our National Digital Archives of Japanese American Military Service (NDAJAMS) project.

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

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.

 kim Ida surh

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.


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.

wat misaka
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.”

Using History as a Guide for the Future

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


“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:


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

Blog 21

“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

The 442nd/100th to the Rescue (of the “Lost Battalion”)!

I have just finished working through an interview with Hideo “Lefty” Kuniyoshi, a Nisei soldier from Hawaii. During World War II, Mr. Kuniyoshi served as a squad leader in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and he saw much action in Italy and France. Sadly, in reading a little bit about Mr. Kuniyoshi, I discovered that he suffered from Alzheimer’s, which would explain his foggy memory in parts of his interview. One area in which Mr. Kuniyoshi’s memory is still intact is his service with the 442nd in Europe. Mr. Kuniyoshi saw action during the Champagne Campaign and the battle to break the Gothic Line, as well as helping to liberate the city of Bruyeres, France. One famous mission Mr. Kuniyoshi took part in was the rescuing of the so-called “Lost Battalion”. Always humble, Mr. Kuniyoshi does not like to be branded a hero for his contribution to the mission, instead maintaining that he was simply performing his duty for his fellow brothers-in-arms. The case of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion” is an interesting story and I have come across it in several of the Nisei veterans’ interviews. I would like to give a little background history for the mission and how it relates to the Nisei military experience.

The “Lost Battalion” was a group of soldiers from the 141st Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion of the 36th (Texas) Division, which originally made up the Texas National Guard. Fighting through France in October of 1944, the soon-to-be “Lost Battalion” was ordered to engage a group of German soldiers, by the much maligned Major General John E. Dahlquist. The battle was a disaster: German soldiers were able to cut-off the battalion, leaving 275 soldiers trapped without supplies in the Vosges Mountains. Two rescue attempts failed and conditions on the ground quickly deteriorated. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was called upon to undertake a final rescue mission after their success in the French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. During the five days of battle, the 442nd was able to break through and defeat the Germans, rescuing the remaining 200 men of the “Lost Battalion”. In the process however, the 442nd suffered hundreds of casualties. The “Lost Battalion” mission contributed to the 442nd becoming the most decorated unit, for its size and length of service, in U.S. history.

Missions, like that of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion”, highlight the importance of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II. The Nisei soldiers’ service shows the selflessness and loyalty that many, like Mr. Kuniyoshi, operated under for a country which treated them poorly. This mission also highlighted the suspect leadership of Major General Dahlquist, who was criticized for his over-utilization of Nisei soldiers, many of whom had little rest after liberating Bruyeres and Biffontaine when called upon for the mission. I have come across several Nisei veterans in these interviews who do not hold the major general in high regards. Mr. Kuniyoshi, for one, when asked about what he thought of Major General Dahlquist responded with the curt reply, “not much”. Some argue that Dahlquist’s actions may highlight the inherent discrimination and racism in the military during World War II, and sadly racism against Japanese Americans permeated the whole country at the time. This is what makes the service of the 442nd/100th and missions, like the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion”, so important, for it signifies the Nisei veterans’ legacy. The Nisei fought to prove their loyalty to their country, as well as to gain honor and respect from the American people. The courage and resolve that Mr. Kuniyoshi and thousands of others have showcased is something to be admired and has rightfully cemented the Nisei soldiers’ actions during World War II as an important piece of American history.

Remembering Pearl Harbor from a Hawaiian Veteran’s perspective

Post written by Alan Hino, Intern at Go For Broke National Education Center

December 7th is always an odd day for me. On the one hand,  it was the beginning of all of the events that led to my family being incarcerated at both Manzanar and Rohwer (as well as Jerome) incarceration camps. Obviously, this personal impact is far outweighed by the thousands that were entombed in the ships and killed in action defending our country. On the other hand, in some strange way,  my family  is both stronger and more closely tight knit because of everything that they went through. It also doesn’t hurt that one of my best friend’s birthday happens to fall on “a date which will live in infamy.”

As we all remember the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, I wanted to highlight a veteran’s perspective of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Mr. Saburo Nishime was stationed at Schofield Barracks and happened to be away from the base since it was a Sunday. He had, unfortunately, heard it on the radio, and needed to travel back to Schofield via truck. He traveled to a point where he could see the USS Arizona burning, along with the other ships in “disarray.” When asked about his feelings on the bombing, he simply shrugged and stated, “it was war.”

He vividly remembers Schofield Barracks being a “tent city,” and how the tent city was sprayed with bullets by enemy fighters. Luckily, since it was a Sunday, the tent city was, for the most part, empty. In reaction, he was told to “wait for what was to come” with the arms they received earlier. They were now armed and prepared, just waiting for the enemy. They had accidentally shot down one of their own planes that happened to fly overhead as it made its way back to an aircraft carrier.

Mr. Nishime stated that the mood among the soldiers was: “We were in a war. It was just the way it was.” Once the defense of the base had ceased, the Nisei soldiers were disarmed. The explanation was that there was a rumor going around that the Nisei soldiers may riot. In addition, the Colonel explained that he trusted 75% of the Nisei soldiers, however, he did not trust the other 25% of them. The rifles were later returned to the soldiers after the first night, and “nothing more was said about the whole thing.”