Hillsboro native honored as 'Go For Broke' Nisei soldier in WWII
He fought for a country that didn't trust him. And back home in Hillsboro, he fought to bring that injustice to light.
Hillsboro native Arthur (Art) Iwasaki, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 97, was among those honored Monday, June 14, at the Oregon Historical Society, in celebration of the release of a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating the Japanese American soldiers who served during World War II.
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, known as Nisei.
As part of the ceremony, actor Ken Yoshikawa read a letter to the Hillsboro Argus that was written by Iwasaki, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who was awarded the Bronze Star while serving in Europe, after his return to the United States.
"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 veteran — he served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War — said he was sad so few of the Nisei survived to see this moment.
Only 10 Nisei veterans are believed to be alive in the greater Portland area, Ron Iwasaki said. Four were invited to Monday's event, but only Yoshiro Tokiwa, also 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."
Iwasaki was born in Hillsboro to Yasukichi and Ito Iwasaki. He graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1938, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and served as a radioman to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, I Company.
While deployed in France, Iwasaki was injured by shrapnel from an artillery shell, then again when the Jeep carrying him to a field hospital struck a landmine, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, which profiled Iwasaki in a 2013 newsletter. Despite his injuries, Iwasaki helped the other two servicemen in the truck into a ditch and out of harm's way.
In recognition, he was awarded two Purple Hearts, along with the Bronze Star.
After the war, Iwasaki returned to the family farm and along with his older brothers, George and Akira, and grew the bedding plant business known as Iwasaki Brothers. He married Teri Yumibe in 1949, and they raised five children, including Christi.
The couple also started their own nursery, Tanasacres Nursery.
In retirement, Iwasaki spent time bringing the stories of the Nisei soldiers to light. He established two scholarship programs: the Oregon Nisei Veterans scholarship and the Art and Teri Iwasaki Scholarship for high school seniors demonstrating outstanding academic achievement and community service through the Japanese American Living Legacy Organizations. He also returned to France to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Bruyeres and Biffontaine.
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, Gov. Ted 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 were provided 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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