‘An atrocity: The hostility and terrorism’ Nisei vets faced

Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence

Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence

NISEI SOLDIERS BREAK THEIR SILENCE: COMING HOME TO HOOD RIVER

By Linda Tamura (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012, 360 pp, $24.95, paperback)  

Linda Tamura’s “Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence” may not be a military history, despite its title, but it is indeed the story of an atrocity: the hostility and terrorism that greeted Japanese Americans, including soldiers, as they returned to their homes on the West Coast at the close of World War II. Author Tamura, a native of Hood River, Ore. and the author of the landmark immigration study “The Hood River Issei,” focuses her attention on the hidden history of prejudice in her hometown. 

Hood River had been home to an established and prosperous Japanese community in the decades before World War II. However, even as its members were removed from their homes under Executive Order 9066 during 1942, local whites, animated by wartime anti-Japanese sentiment, began organizing to avert their return. Through delegations of citizens, letter-writing campaigns and newspaper polls, local whites pressed to forever exclude Japanese Americans from the area. As the West Coast reopened in 1944-45 and former inmates began resettling in their former home, local whites redoubled their opposition. Even Nisei servicemen were not spared. In November of 1944, leaders of the local branch of the all-white American Legion, made up largely of World War I veterans, ordered the names of the town’s 16 Nisei servicemen erased from the honor roll in front of city hall. One of the names was that of Frank Hachiya, a Military Intelligence Service member who had been killed while on duty in the Philippines. The incident was reported in Life magazine, and soon attracted nationwide press coverage and outraged editorials. Stung by the bad publicity and under pressure from the national American Legion — as well as from locals who supported racial tolerance — the Hood River Post finally reversed its policy in April of 1945. By that time, however, the small town had become a national watchword for racist bigotry.

Tamura flushes out the personal side of these painful events. From back issues of the local town newspaper, she learned of participants — surely an uncomfortable experience for Tamura, a local girl, to see the names of former friends and neighbors. The centerpiece of the book is the stories of the group of Nisei veterans whose military service had been shamefully erased by the American Legion. Tamura was able to persuade these heroes to overcome their reluctance and tell their stories, starting with childhood in Hood River and continuing on to their wartime service and then their return.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the experience of individual Nisei soldiers varied widely. Among the most striking was the experience of Fred Sumoge and Kenjiro Hayakawa, who were victims of unjust treatment in the military. First, while serving at Fort Riley, Kan., Sumoge had faced the humiliation of being confined under guard by overzealous superiors during President Franklin Roosevelt’s visit to the fort. Later, while at Fort McClellan, Ala., both men were falsely charged with willful disobedience of orders, and subjected to court-martial and dishonorable discharge. The narrative of their long struggle to reverse these actions forms the most poignant section of this most moving work of historical reconstruction.

 

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