A Moment in History: Remembering Pearl Harbor

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

A single devastating event could change everything in an instant. On December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii by the Japanese Imperial Army changed the lives of  thousands of Japanese Americans forever.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Howard Furumoto, who was a college student at Kansas State University at the time of Pearl Harbor, was among those affected by the events of that unfateful day. In his oral history interview, Furumoto recounts his own experience upon hearing the news of Pearl Harbor:

“December 7th, 1941, I happened to be in this one room. I was the single occupant of this room and, of course, I couldn’t afford a fancy room, I was in the basement room all by myself along with two haole fellas and they had an adjoining—adjacent room; they roomed together, I was alone. And they had their radio on, we didn’t have television back in those days, and it was a squeaky old radio and this announcement came over the radio and I heard it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt coming on and he announced, of course, that Pearl Harbor was attacked and then he made declaration that “THIS IS WAR!” That’s what I heard and that was really devastating. Yeah, my whole world came to a stop then.”

From that day on, Furumoto went from being an ordinary college student to a feared and hated “Jap”:

“I had many friends, you know, before Pearl Harbor but then after Pearl Harbor, of course, I was, I was Japanese, a Jap to them. They made no distinguish—distinction, yeah. Even the places where they served meals, places where they cut hair, barbershop, we couldn’t get the proper service. I was turned down by the barbershop, they couldn’t cut—he wouldn’t cut my hair anymore; the same barber. Go to a restaurant, they wouldn’t serve you.”

This response towards Japanese Americans resonated throughout the entire nation. What manifested from this wartime hysteria was President Roosevelt’s authorization and implementation of Executive Order 9066, which allowed for the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. In addition, due to fear of sabotage, the government reclassified all Japanese Americans who were eligible for the wartime draft from 1A (available for military service) to 4C (enemy alien). However, this did not stop the Nisei from proving their loyalty and volunteering to enlist into the United States Army. Some Nisei went through extreme lengths to volunteer. Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada mentions in his oral history interview, how he hitchhiked 35 miles from his junior college to Camp San Luis Obispo to enlist.

Those living in Hawaii at the time of the attack endured a different course of events that contrasted the experience of their counterparts living on the Mainland. For instance, all soldiers of Japanese ancestry who were serving in the Hawaii Territorial Guard were disarmed and discharged from service. Undeterred, this did not stop them from volunteering their services towards the war effort.

Men of the VVV constructing an army barrack. Photo courtesy of Ted Tsukiyama.

By gathering a number of volunteers, this group was formed into the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV), which was attached to the 34th Engineer Battalion. As a civilian labor battalion, the VVV worked hard to construct roads, build barracks and water towers–contributing any type of labor work to help. The dedication and hard work conveyed by the VVV led to the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 changed the lives of the entire Japanese American population in the United States. The situation that the Nisei were put into forced them to take a course of action; instead of letting the response of the American public hold them back, they focused on reaffirming their American identity by offering their services and sacrificing their lives to fight for the country that doubted their loyalty. It is this type of patriotism and willingness to “Go for Broke” that made the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team the most highly decorated military unit in United States military history.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

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.

What makes a hero?

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

Why do I love our archives so much?  Because the photographs and oral histories remind me that these heroes of World War II were still ordinary people just like all of us.  Yes, they faced bullets and prejudice, and their courage and accomplishments will always dwarf mine.  But they were also ordinary young men and women with ordinary lives, ordinary habits, ordinary families and friends, and ordinary feelings that are common to us all.  They were human, and by knowing that they were human, it makes their heroics that much more impressive.

Check out this picture below, straight from our archives.  It was donated to us by Hiroshi Mizuki.  The photo shows Dick Narasaki, Frank Ichimoto, and Joe Nagata at Pen Beach in Livorno, Italy.  In their smiles, casual glances, and relaxed postures, they are like any young men enjoying a day at the beach.  There is little in the picture, other than Army-issued clothing, to suggest that they are in the middle of a war.

For Chris Blog 9

So what is the big message?  That even heroes are just ordinary people like you and me, and that ordinary people like you and me can become heroes.  It takes remarkable courage, integrity, sacrifice, and compassion, but it is possible.  Superheroes do not need capes and x-ray vision.  Just like these young men at the beach, heroes just need to step up with courage when people depend on them.

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.

The Power of Photographs

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

Photos are powerful. Without using any words, they can show a depth of emotions. They can capture events better than any text ever could. They are a snapshot in time, forever able to take viewers back to a moment, an event, a struggle, a triumph.

At Go For Broke National Education Center, our archives are full of powerful photographs. They capture the Japanese American soldiers of World War II – and their families – in many different lights. Some photos show the men in the chaos of battle. Others show them lined up in rigid discipline during basic training. But most photos simply capture the soldiers in their most natural element – as young men spending time with one another, joking, laughing, shooting the breeze. These images humanize our heroes. They remind us that between each horrific battle, these young men were people just like the rest of us.

From time to time, we will use this blog to share photos of these heroes as everyday young men. We will show you images of them playing games, smiling, and chatting with twinkles in their eyes. We will show them living.

Here is one of my favorites. Tell us what you think of this photograph – what does it mean to you?

Chris Blog 4 Photo - Camp Savage, 1942_Courtesy of Vincenzo Peluso and Toyoko Yamane-Peluso
Camp Savage, 1942. Courtesy of Vincenzo Peluso and Toyoko Yamane-Peluso.