Skip to content
 

Honoring Japanese-American Soldiers Sacrifice in World War II

The U.S. Postal Service will unveil a commemorative stamp

Soldiers standing in line saluting

Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo / AARP

Japanese-American soldiers from Hawaii in basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Bob Edwards:

On June 3rd, the United States Postal Service will release a new stamp commemorating Japanese American soldiers’ service in World War II. 

 

For the families of these soldiers who fought in the war, and for Japanese Americans across the country, this stamp holds tremendous significance.

 

Fusa Takahashi:

I felt it was necessary for the public to know that in spite of being drafted or volunteered from the concentration camp, they still fought with such bravery and uncommon courage.

 

Bob Edwards:

That’s Fusa Takahashi, the 94-year old wife of a World War II soldier. She and two other women founded the Stamp Our Story campaign to make sure all Japanese American soldiers’ sacrifices were remembered. 

 

To understand the full story, we’ll hear from not just Takahashi, but also a veteran of World War II and the co-chair of the Stamp Our Story campaign. That’s coming up next. 

 

Hi, I’m Bob Edwards with An AARP Take on Today.

 

On July 15th, 1946, after the war, President Truman addressed a group of Japanese American soldiers from the Ellipse Park near the White House.

 

President Truman:

You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice and you won.

 

Bob Edwards:

One prejudice that President Truman could have been referencing was the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Most Japanese American soldiers were living in internment camps far away from their homes when they enlisted or were drafted into the war. 97-year-old Don Miyada was just 17 when he was sent to the camps.

 

Don Miyada:

That was probably I think May 17, 1942, that we were bused over to Poston, Arizona. And I stayed there for about one year

 

Bob Edwards:

Despite his internment, he and thousands of other second-generation Japanese Americans were drafted or enlisted into the war. They were placed into the combined 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was mostly segregated. We say mostly segregated because, although just about every soldier was of Asian heritage, they were also barred from holding higher ranks. 

 

Fusa Takahashi:

They were denied because they look like the enemy. But because of their heritage and upbringing, boys do your best, they became the most decorated unit in the history of the United States military for their size and length of service.

 

Bob Edwards:

The National Museum of American History says more than 30,000 Japanese American soldiers served in the U.S. military during World War II. 

 

Some of the accomplishments of the 100th/442nd regiment included rescuing over 200 surviving soldiers from German control in France. 

 

Don Miyada:

We were involved in some campaigns like the defense or the French maritime Alps in Southern France.

 

Bob Edwards:

One company in the struggle began with 180 men. Only eight returned after days of combat against the enemy in the snow. Years later, a governor of Texas issued a proclamation that made the 442nd regiment honorary citizens of Texas.

 

On this Memorial Day, Miyada recalls the people who were sent overseas alongside him who died in the war.

 

Don Miyada:

I think all my friends and, and acquaintances who have given their lives in the service of their country during World War II, and that extends from my days at Newport Harbor high school to the 442nd regimental combat team. A lot of my friends at Newport Harbor high school died in World War II, and that's about 20 of them. And of course I have friends and, and comrades who passed away in the 442nd regimental combat team.

 

Bob Edwards:

That brings us, of course, to the stamp. In 2005, Fusa Takahashi and Aiko O. King went to an exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

 

Fusa Takahashi:

I felt that the story should be told to a broader audience. Both Aiko and I thought that having a stamp issued to commemorate their accomplishment would be a good way because it is tangible and it's universal.

 

Bob Edwards:

They agreed they would need more support, so they turned to a friend and fellow widow of a World War II veteran, Chiz Ohira. The three together created the Stamp Our Story campaign to honor the service and sacrifice of the American men and women of Japanese heritage who served during World War II.

Wayne Osako, co-chair of the campaign, recalls meeting these women shortly after the group’s founding. 

 

Wayne Osako:

They were our kind of our Three Musketeers, so to speak or golden girls. They were our golden girls that we just rallied around. And we wrote letters to politicians, to the president, a number of presidents actually over the years. Talk to everybody we could, went to festivals, got petition signatures.

 

Bob Edwards:

They campaigned long and hard for 15 years, but in 2020, they received word from the U.S. Postal Service that the stamp, called The Go For Broke stamp, would finally come to fruition. Takahashi, who was 78 in 2005 and is now 94, sees the stamp and its campaign as a lesson for future generations when faced with challenges.

 

Fusa Takahashi:

The lesson I hope the youth will learn from this stamp is that even when you're faced with so many adversities, always be proud of who you are, and when faced with any task, always do your best. The story of their accomplishment of uncommon courage and valor is very much a part of the Asian culture and is something to be proud of.

 

Bob Edwards:

Here to discuss the faces behind the history of both the World War II soldiers and the Stamp Our Story campaign is Wayne Osako.

 

Wayne, thanks for joining us.

 

Wayne Osako:

Hey, thanks for having me.

 

Bob Edwards:

Let's start with the bit of the history of the 100th/422nd Regiment Combat Team, who had the idea and what was their role in World War II?

 

Wayne Osako:

So the Nisei, we like to call them Nisei soldiers, and that Nisei is a term meaning the second generation American born children of immigrants who came from Japan or the Issei. But the Nisei soldiers after World War II broke out, they were seen as the enemy. The Nisei soldiers wanted to prove different because they knew otherwise. They served in a number of areas in the US military, including the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and also the Military Intelligence Service. Women even served in the Women's Army Corps and Cadet Nurse Corps, and there were others who served stateside, and there were non-deployed.

 

But that's a really big question, and the big story, the 100th, 442 were first started. There were a number of who actually were already serving in the US army before war broke out. The US military didn't know what to do with them because they saw the flags on the enemy planes that attacked Hawaii. And they were, "Do we trust the Japanese-Americans? What do we do? Do we give them guns to help protect our country?" And so they kind of quarantine them in away and didn't give them guns. They took away their guns. They didn't let them do the normal things that the soldiers did. And then they kept them there for a while.

 

But over time they did give them a chance, and they were formed into the 100th battalion. When the Military Brass saw them, "Hey, let's give them a test case. Let's send them to Italy. We'll watch them carefully." What happened, they really blew the minds of the Military Brass, how adept the 100th was. And they said, "We got to expand this." Then they formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team into which the 100th was absorbed, and became usually battalions are termed first battalion, second battalion and so on, but they allowed the 100th to keep that arbitrary number.

 

The veterans today wear that with pride. We have a number of veterans that we work with today, even just a few remaining that still are so proud that they're a part of the 100th. But the 100th/422nd served and fought in Europe. They had over 18,000 awards, are considered the most decorated unit in US military history for their size and length of service, with 21 medals of honor, eight Presidential Unit Citations, 9,000 or Purple Hearts. The list kind of goes on and on, and Congressional Gold Medal was recently awarded to them.

 

The Military Intelligence Service, like I hinted, they served in Pacific theater. They were a top secret group, mainly military linguists. They were given a chance to see if using linguistic and intercultural skills would be helpful against Japan. It proved to be true so much so that military historians have estimated they shortened the war in the Pacific by two years at least, and saved countless lives in that process.

 

Bob Edwards:

Just the idea of defending a country that kept your family, and interned in camps in the desert is just remarkable irony.

 

Wayne Osako:

It sure is. Both my parents, Bob, by the way, they were in junior high, they were 12, 13 years old, the same age as my daughters, by the way. I just imagine them being termed as enemies, enemy aliens. They were born and raised here, but just because your grandparents came from a certain nation, you have this heritage, "No, we're going to lock you up." "We're going to call these relocation centers." "We're going to evacuate you." "And we're going to point the guns at you when you were behind barbed wire for about three years."

 

Bob Edwards:

And now for all of us, I'm glad they were on our side. The unit's motto is, 'Go for broke.' Where did that come from?

 

Wayne Osako:

It sure is. Both my parents, Bob, by the way, they were in junior high, they were 12, 13 years old, the same age as my daughters, by the way. I just imagine them being termed as enemies, enemy aliens. They were born and raised here, but just because your grandparents came from a certain nation, you have this heritage, "No, we're going to lock you up." "We're going to call these relocation centers." "We're going to evacuate you." "And we're going to point the guns at you when you were behind barbed wire for about three years."

 

Bob Edwards:

And now for all of us, I'm glad they were on our side. The unit's motto is, 'Go for broke.' Where did that come from?

 

Wayne Osako:

Yeah. So 'Go for broke' is a Hawaiian Pidgin English term, which is really slang, which was often used in gambling at the time, way back when, before the war. Meaning to just go for it, you're all in, put everything in basically, and basically go for your goal with all you've got.

There are a number of cases where soldiers were wounded in battle, sometimes mortally, and being carried off the battlefield, and shouted 'Go for broke' as they're being carried off. And it chokes me up just hearing that story and every time. The 'Go for broke' phrase became much, much more than that, much, much more than the original gambling slang. Now embodies that persevering, enduring spirit.

 

Bob Edwards:

For the listeners at home, can you describe what the stamp looks like?

 

Wayne Osako:

The stamp looks like, basically it's a portrait of one, a male soldier. It is inspired by a real photograph of a real Hawaiian soldier. His name was Shiroku and his nickname is Whitey. His last name is Yamamoto. So Shiroku 'Whitey' Yamamoto. Whitey was a Jeep driver in the anti-tank company. He served in Europe and he was a very humble guy. He actually, because he was not in the frontlines, he was providing support as a Jeep driver. He often did not want attention. But we all love them, those veterans who are like that, very humble and understated, then you realize all the things that they have done and are doing. So he's one of those guys. He volunteered for 20 plus years at the Hawaii Army Museum. If you ever visited over the years, you might've met him.

 

He did pass away a few years ago, but for many years, he was there for free, I believe it was free entry. He would greet you and say, "Hey, let me teach you a little bit about, what the Nisei soldiers did and I'm one of them, by the way." We couldn't be happier to have him on the stamp. It's very difficult to choose one person to be on there. But we love that it's Whitey, embodies that humility in that spirit, that we talk about, the 'Go for broke' spirit. He lost his parents at a young age, and he struggled through that before the war. He was adopted by his non-Japanese American high school principal at the time, adopted into their family. So kind of them. He wanted to serve, and he did so in World War II. He's the image that you're going to see on the stamp.

 

Bob Edwards:

Now, you've got your stamp. Mission accomplished. You're done, right?

 

Wayne Osako:

A little bit. Yeah, we are done, but we're not done in some ways. So what we want to do is throughout the year and following years, just continue to help teach others about the Nisei soldiers' story and their legacy. We're working on a number of projects, including school projects, including at my daughter's school, and developing curriculum to teach about this little stamp, and the story behind it. So we're helping in those ways. We're also trying to preserve through video, and other formats that people can learn about, continuing to learn about the Nisei soldiers' story.

 

Bob Edwards:

Wayne Osako is the Co-chairman of the Stamp Our Story campaign. You can learn more at stampourstory.org. Thank you, Wayne.

 

Wayne Osako:

You too. Thank you.

 

Bob Edwards:

The U.S. Postal Service will honor Japanese American veterans with the Go For Broke commemorative stamp on June 3rd, 2021 at 11am Eastern Time. Check USPS.com/goforbrokestamp for more details.

 

Before we sign off, here’s Don Miyada once more, with the last word on the commemorative stamp:

 

Don Miyada:

I think it's a long overdue recognition and I wish to commend the US postal services for their acumen in choosing the services of the Americans of Japanese ancestries during World War II, as a subject of their forthcoming Sam. I think they should be commended for that.

 

Bob Edwards:

That’s it for today’s show.

If you liked this episode, please let us know by emailing us at news podcast at AARP dot org

Thanks to our news team.

Producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Bianca Trotter

Engineer Julio Gonzales

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, my co-hosts Mike Ellison and Wilma Consul.

Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well.

For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Bob Edwards. Thanks for listening.

Fifteen years ago, three women began working to have the U.S. Postal Service create a new stamp honoring the sacrifice of Japanese Americans who fought in WWII. This year, their long sought-after story will finally be shared through a commemorative stamp. Listen to their story of determination on today’s Memorial Day show.

For more information:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn

How to Listen and Subscribe to 'Take on Today' Podcast

iPhone or iPad

  1. Open the Apple Podcasts app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
  2. Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
  3. Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.

Android Phone or Tablet

  1. Open the Google Play Music app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
  2. Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
  3. Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.
  1. To play podcasts on your Amazon Echo smart speaker, ask the following: "Alexa, ask TuneIn to play Take on Today podcast" OR "Alexa, play Take on Today podcast on TuneIn"
  2. To play podcasts on your Google Home smart speaker, ask the following: "Hey Google, play Take on Today podcast"
     

Join the Discussion

0 %{widget}% | Add Yours

You must be logged in to leave a comment.