Tetsuo “Tim” Nomiyama, a Kibei Nisei military resister, passed away on Dec. 10, 2012 at the age of 96.
Nomiyama was born on Jan. 20, 1916 in Alameda, Calif. Around the age of 4 or 5, his parents sent him to their ancestral home in Fukuoka Prefecture to receive a Japanese education.
When Nomiyama returned to the U.S. in his 20s, he had forgotten all his English. He lived and worked on his cousin’s farm in Turlock, Calif., while trying to learn English at the local high school.
Later, he worked at a Japanese grocery store in Modesto, Calif. where he toiled seven days a week, delivering sacks of beans or flour, cutting the meats, and driving his boss on Sundays.
Nomiyama received his draft notice in late 1941. His boss, not wanting to lose him, offered to have an attorney request an extension, but Nomiyama was already 27 and he wanted to fulfill his military duty before he got too old.
On the day Nomiyama was to report for his physical in Sacramento, he was running a fever and everyone told him to stay home but Nomiyama trudged on. When he showed up to his draft board, the Army officer took one look at him and had him admitted into the Army hospital. About a week later, he was sworn in on Dec. 5, 1941.
Two days later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. “If the American military had told me to fight against Japan, I was prepared to say no,” Nomiyama said in Japanese. “If I saw my brother there, I’m not going to shoot him. I’d rather die myself.”
Nomiyama was sent to the Presidio in Monterey, then to Camp Roberts, Calif., and did his basic training at Camp Robinson in Arkansas where he was introduced to American-style segregation. “The blacks were all in separate areas,” said Nomiyama. “I couldn’t understand why. I thought this was terrible.”
From there, Nomiyama was sent to Camp Leonard Wood, Mo.
During a furlough, Nomiyama visited his brother, Don Hiraku, who was imprisoned at the Tule Lake concentration camp.
‘Fort McClellan Disciplinary Barrack Boys’
Nomiyama arrived at Fort McClellan, Ala., on March 20, 1944. Brig. Gen. Wallace C. Philoon was to deliver a speech that day. Just prior to Philoon’s speech, about 100 Japanese American soldiers had appeared before the administration building to voice their concerns about discrimination in the Army. These soldiers were all placed into the stockade for disobeying orders.
When Nomiyama’s unit arrived, they had heard that there had been a commotion but were unaware of the details. After Nomiyama’s unit heard Philoon’s speech, Nomiyama decided to take to heart what Philoon said about bringing their concerns to their commander.
By that time, Nomiyama was also beginning to question American-style democracy. He had witnessed segregation in the Deep South, had family and relatives in the Tule Lake and Granada (Amache) concentration camps and faced racist practices in the Army. As a result, he decided he needed some answers before he was willing to risk his life for the U.S. “I wanted to clear my conscience,” said Nomiyama. “I wanted to know what exactly I was giving up my life for.”
Nomiyama and four other Nikkei soldiers met with their commander, who disappointed them by telling them that he could do nothing to alleviate the racist policies of the Army or the government.
At this point, Nomiyama’s group protested that they could not fight for the U.S. if they were not given equal rights as U.S. citizens. They were escorted to the stockade.
On March 21, 1944, a colonel lectured the soldiers in the stockade’s mess hall that what they were doing amounted to treason. He gave the soldiers a choice: Go out the right door and all will be forgiven. Walk out the left door and face a court martial, possibly death.
Seventy-eight men went out the right door. Twenty-eight, including Nomiyama, chose the left door and became known as the “Fort McClellan Disciplinary Barrack Boys” or “DB Boys” for short.
In April of 1944, the soldiers were individually court martialed and charged with one count of violating the lawful command of a superior officer under the 64th Article of War.
Sentencing ranged from 30 years to five. Nomiyama received the lighter sentence of five years since he technically had not disobeyed orders but had voluntarily requested to be placed in the stockade.
The soldiers were sent to the Leavenworth federal penitentiary, the same prison where the Heart Mountain Fair Play leaders and members were incarcerated.
In November of 1945, the Secretary of the Army issued a clemency act, which reduced the soldiers’ sentences to two years. After the soldiers were released from prison in 1946, they were given dishonorable discharges, making them ineligible for Army benefits.
From 1948 to 1954, Edmund Zane, a friend of “DB Boy” Masao Kataoka, spearheaded a campaign to clear the men’s records. Zane tracked down court martial records and wrote numerous letters, all on a pro bono basis, but was unsuccessful.
In 1973, attorney Paul Minerich married Nomiyama’s daughter, Lisa. After Minerich learned about his father-in-law’s military experience, he decided to see what he could do. The legal team consisted of Minerich and his wife.
After contacting surviving “DB Boys,” 11 veterans agreed to have their cases re-opened. Tom Turcottt, who specialized in court martialed veterans, advised Minerich of where to start.
In February of 1980, Minerich submitted a brief to the Secretary of the Army, requesting that the men’s discharge be upgraded to an honorable one and that the court martial conviction be expunged from their records.
Following two more years of comprehensive presentations, Minerich and seven “DB Boys” flew to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8, 1982 to testify at the Pentagon. The Army board voted 3-2 in favor of granting the men the various requests of changing their date of discharge to the date that their service time would have normally ended, reinstallment of rank, restitution of back pay and other benefits. However, the board refused to set aside the court martial conviction.
Memorial services were held on Dec. 16 at the Westminster Memorial Park Mortuary in Westminister, Calif.