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Japanese Americans: World War II Heroes

Dorothy Crockett and Setsuko Kaneda

by Rev. Dorothy Crockett, Pulpit Supply, Southern Association, SCNC, UCC

As an event to celebrate the heritage of Japanese American citizens who served in the United States Navy during World War II, a bus of 50 people left San Diego, on March 18, 2017, to head for “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles. Our goal: to see the Go For Broke Monument and to tour the Japanese American Historical Museum. What a memorable day it turned out to be!

Upon arrival, half of our group went to meet our tour guide at the monument. The other planned to meet the docent at the museum. Our agenda included breaking for lunch at nearby restaurants, then resuming our adventure with each group trading destinies.

The Go for Broke monument is a tribute to the 16,126 nisei* soldiers in memory of them and their sacrifice to their country. Several aspects of it reflect symbolic meaning for the visitors. Our guide explained that on the back on the rising, semicircular granite, is a list of the soldiers’ names.nancy's uncle

While the motto “Go For Broke” initially was used by the 100th Infantry Battalion, it soon became used to apply for all the Japanese American units formed during WWII.  Here, the other units represented also include: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), the Military Intelligence Service, the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Combat Engineer Company, and the 139th Engineering Construction Battalion.

front of GFB MonumentThe placing of the monument is set in relationship to the sun’s passing in the southern direction. Two palm trees on each side represent the Japanese Americans who came from Hawaii. Opposing the wall of names are plaques with quotes from Presidents Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, and General Douglas McArthur. One plaque gives credit to these units for shortening WWII by two years.

In the center of the lower part of the monument is a larger plaque with the inscription that highlights how our Japanese American citizens valiantly fought during WWII – to defend their country – and to do so with an unstoppable spirit to prove their loyalty. As a result, thousands were granted posthumously, the Purple Heart.

In hearing their story, I was conscious of visible goose-bumps on my arms. While aware that our country’s history included the historical occurrence of encampments of U.S. citizens, I was completely unaware of its life changing effect on this segment of our population. My compassion caused me to wonder, ”How did these people do it?”

Pastor Yoshi Kaneda and wife, Setsuko

Pastor Yoshi Kaneda and wife, Setsuko

Among those sharing this experience with me were Rev. Yoshi Kaneda, his wife Setsuko and Nancy Shimamoto, who had two uncles who served in these units. We found their names, engraved in the monument’s wall, and took pictures of them.

After taking our lunch at a local Japanese restaurant, we returned at the appointed time to join the docent at the Japanese American Historical Museum. Here we learned that its first home was the former Hompa Hongwanj Buddhist Temple, built in 1925. It was used, in 1942, for the Japanese American internment processing program.

The museum’s current site opened in 1999. In addition to multiple displays and historical exhibits of Japanese American culture, our group focused specifically on the profound impact on the Japanese American families – before, during, and after – the WWII internment camps. Videos and pictures with accompanying narrations showed life in Little Tokyo in the early 1940s as a typical U.S. lifestyle.

Then, in startling opposition, the unexpected announcement that our citizens received military orders to pack their suitcase and take what they could carry – and be ready to board buses. They didn’t know until many miles later that they’d be living in army barrack-style housing in a desert environment. The camp was enclosed with barbed wire fences and had military guards for years, until they were freed following WWII.

One impressive exhibit contained letters, written by children to Clara Breed, a San Diego librarian. She faithfully wrote back to each, encouraging these ‘camp’ children.

Nancy Shimamoto with tag project

Nancy Shimamoto with tag project

Another display shows three columns hanging from the ceiling, all the way down to knee-length. The columns were about 3-4 feet in diameter. Tied together were the thousands of tags which each of the encamped members had to wear. This display was put together by the daughter of a member of the Pioneer Ocean View Church, UCC, in San Diego. She led this volunteer project in remembrance of each individual who lived in the internment camps.

The contrast of internees’ life before the forced encampment and as detained citizens saddened me. I found it amazing to experience the strength, faith, perseverance and the triumphant and forgiving spirit of those who lived through this atrocity. They are more than survivors; they are thrivers. Their spirit exemplifies and models the ultimate victory.

Once more, they began their lives.

See: www.goforbroke.org ; 355 E. 1st St., Ste. 200, L.A. 90012 310.328. 0907
See: www.janm.org 100 Central Ave., L.A., CA 90012 213.625. 0414

* a person born in the US or Canada whose parents were immigrants from Japan


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