The Legacy of World War II

4 Dec
The week of December 7 is a week in which every Japanese-American has to face the legacy of history. I will admit, with much shame, that as a knucklehead adolescent I tended to make fun of Pearl Harbor Day, oftentimes threatening to go down to Cricket Hill and bomb the Eskimo totem pole. As I got older I started to realize that this was no joking matter, especially when I became a professional musician. One December 7 found me playing a cocktail reception at the military installation at O’Hare, in a room decorated with photos of the U.S.S. Arizona, and another December 7 found me playing a community theater performance out in Elgin; I was in the washroom, in a stall, and overheard two old guys at the urinals asking each other where they were “on that day”; one of them had been at Pearl. I stayed in the stall until they left. And I once dated a woman, a Southern belle, who warned me that her father was never to know about our relationship, because he had survived Pearl Harbor. People died, and people remember.

Of course, that cuts both ways. One of my best friends’ family has roots in Hiroshima, and I can only imagine what his feelings are every August 6.

Throughout most of my life I’ve been aware that there’s a disconnect between what we were taught in history classes at school and what my family related to me. Ever since I was little I knew that my whole family had spent most of World War II “in the camps,” and that the adult men in the family had also served in the United States Army overseas. It wasn’t until I became a hippie that the inherent weirdness of that started to sink in. And even at this late date in history I continue to run into friends who have no idea what “the camps” were, or about the history of the Nisei in World War II was.

I’ll try to be brief; in 1942 president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order wdc-japanese-internment-announcement9066, which commanded all United States residents of Japanese ancestry to report to “relocation centers,” which were in essence concentration camps. The camps were located in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. By all accounts life in the camps was no picnic; I remember my mom and aunts talking about the sand blowing in through cracks in the walls and covering everything while they slept (snow, in the winter). You were only allowed to bring what you could physically carry, or lash to your vehicles, so almost everyone lost their homes, their farms, their businesses, their land, and most of their possessions unless they were lucky enough to have neighbors who’d watch over their interests (most did not; this resulted in what was essentially a land-grab by the Anglo Californians). And although many of the Japanese-Americans were understandably bitter and dispirited, the majority of them remained determined to prove that they were good American citizens. In this spirit thousands of young men volunteered to serve in the Army.

go_for_broke

Go For Broke

Most of them were placed in two special units, the 442nd Combat Regiment and the 100th Battalion. Eventually the two units were consolidated, and included a Field Artillery battalion. The 442nd/100th served in the European theater; very few Japanese soldiers fought in the Pacific, although some served in intelligence positions, as interpreters. The 442nd/100th were the most-decorated units in the war, with

amongst the highest casualty rates as

uncle_mark

Uncle Mark

well. My Uncle Mark was in the 442nd; my dad was not, although he did serve in Italy. I never got the story of why he didn’t go with the 442nd; he was younger than Mark, which might explain it (he was a company bugler). The 442nd’s motto was “Go For Broke,” which was also the title of a movie starring Van Johnson, about the unit. That movie is part of every Japanese-American of my age’s upbringing; I’ve probably seen it dozens of times, and most of my friends own copies of it, as do I.

The most famous legend of the 442nd’s history is the story of the Lost Battalion. Units of the 141st Regiment were cut off and surrounded by Germans in the Vosges mountains; suffering great casualties, the 442nd rescued them. The 442nd’s K Company suffered 386 casualties out of their 400 men.

So, I realize that I’m not responsible for Pearl Harbor, just as I realize you’re not responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I feel justifiable pride in what the guys in the 442nd/100th accomplished, and I do wish that it was a better-known aspect of World War II history, as I also wish the Relocation Centers were too. And ever year on December 7 I’ll dwell on these thoughts.

Steve Hashimoto

This post appeared a couple years back in News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

 

163984_190498084309709_7503578_n

Steve Hashimoto

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: