Japanese Americans honored as 'Go For Broke' Nisei soldier in WWII
They fought for a country that didn't trust them. Back home, or in internment camps, they fought to bring that injustice to light.
It's believed that only 10 of the "Nisei" Japanese American soldiers of World War II remain alive in the greater Portland area: of those 10, four were invited and one was able to attend a Monday, June 14, ceremony at the Oregon Historical Society, in celebration of the release of a U.S. Postal Service stamp honoring their sacrifice.
The ceremony — "Go For Broke Soldiers: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII" — was recorded and can be watched at StampOurStory.org. Among the honorees were former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and four generations of the descendants of the soldiers.
Among the speakers was Mia Kazuko Ballinger, 11, from Bend. Her great-grandfather, Harry Morioka, was incarcerated at an American concentration camp before he volunteered for the U.S. Army, where he served as a linguist with the Military Intelligence Service.
"They asked me if I'd speak here because my great-grandpa was a Nisei soldier," she said before the presentation. "I feel really proud that I have a famous Japanese relative, and that I'm Japanese."
Hillsboro native Arthur Iwasaki, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 97, was another of the people honored at the ceremony.
As part of the ceremony, actor Ken Yoshikawa read a letter that Iwasaki, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team wrote to the Hillsboro Argus newspaper after the war.
"It was long overdue," said Christi Iwasaki, Art Iwasaki's daughter. "It was really frustrating because it's an important piece of history. They had to overcome a lot of hurdles. I'm glad they got this. It's really nice that they're being honored."
Iwasaki's nephew, Ron Iwasaki of Hillsboro and himself a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he was sad so few of the Nisei survived to see this moment. Of the 10 Nisei veterans known to be living in the Portland-Vancouver area, only Yoshiro Tokiwa, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was able to attend.
"Uncle Art's family established a scholarship for high school students, to honor the Nisei," Ron Iwasaki said. "This is a pretty special moment."
The U.S. Postal Service released the new stamp earlier this month. Ceremonies have taken place, or are planned, across the country.
At Oregon's event, Kulongoski said, "Our Japanese American World War II veterans fought for democracy while their own families were incarcerated in concentration camps on American soil. They believed in America. We salute them. And we will not forget."
Asian American actors portrayed stories of military service. Beyond Yoshikawa's reading of the Hillsboro Argus letter, actor David Loftus read an excerpt from Harold Okimoto's diary, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion; and Alton Chung presented former U.S. Rep. Al Ullman's tribute to Frank Hachiya of the Military Intelligence Service. Musical tributes include by the Minidoka Swing Band, Portland Taiko and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble.
"This unique commemoration recognizes and reminds us of the legacy achieved by Nisei veterans of WWII," said Doug Katagiri, son of linguist George Katagiri, veteran of the Military Intelligence Service. "It's impossible to overstate their sacrifices in building this legacy, fighting a war abroad while enduring racism and an extraordinary episode of national injustice at home."
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