Cedrick Shimo, WWII military resister and Honda exec, dies at 100

Cedrick Masaki Shimo, a World War II military resister and an executive at American Honda Motors, USA, passed away peacefully on April 1, 2020. He was 100.

photo by Martha Nakagawa

Shimo was the only child born to Tamori and Yoshiko Urakami Shimo, both from Okayama, Japan, in Heber, Calif., in the Imperial Valley. At the time, his father was running a sizable cotton farm in the Imperial Valley. But when the price of cotton collapsed, the family moved to Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, where Cedrick grew up in a multicultural neighborhood. He also lived in Japan for about a year.

After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1937, he enrolled at UCLA. When he became president of the UCLA Japanese American Business Students Club, he spearheaded a project that sent out questionnaires to 75 American firms, asking them if they’d hire a qualified Japanese graduate. The responses were discouraging.

The questionnaire was an eye opener for Shimo, and he decided he wanted to pursue Japan-America relations. He was set to enroll in Keio University after he graduated from UCLA. However, just about that time, Congress passed a law that prevented men of military age from leaving the country. As a result, Shimo pursued graduate studies in international relations at UC Berkeley.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, Shimo received his draft notice from the Los Angeles draft board, but denied a train ticket, he had to hitchhike from Berkeley to Los Angeles to be inducted into the military. When going through basic training, the Army had not yet segregated the Japanese Americans from the other men. Shimo even led some of the close-order drills since he had training from the Boy Scouts and ROTC at UCLA.

During basic training, his father had been picked up by the FBI.

In March of 1942, a major came, asking for volunteers for the Military Intelligence Service. Shimo decided to volunteer and was transferred to Camp Savage in Minnesota.

The MIS soldiers were given another two weeks of furlough just before their graduation ceremony. Shimo requested to visit his mother, who, by then, was incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. However, Shimo’s application was denied. He was told that Japanese Americans were now excluded from the West Coast, although he was serving in the U.S. military. This angered Shimo. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go visit his mother before shipping overseas to fight for the U.S.

Around that time, Shimo was given the so-called “loyalty questionnaire.” Although Shimo answered that he was loyal to the U.S., he said he was no longer willing to serve wherever ordered.

He also wrote a letter to his commanding officer that although he would like to remain in the MIS, he was no longer willing to go overseas. This got him kicked out of the MIS.

Since the government didn’t know what to do with soldiers such as Shimo, he was initially transferred to Fort Leavenworth where he worked in the motor pool department. In total, 20 soldiers from Shimo’s entire MIS school were kicked out.

Shortly after, Shimo was given orders to transfer to the 525 Quartermasters Corp., which were comprised of American soldiers of German, Italian and Japanese descent. Shimo, who until then had the ranking of corporal, was also demoted to private like all the others who had ended up in the 525. From there, the government formed the 1800th Engineer General Service Battalion.

While in the military, Shimo got promoted to private first class three times and got busted down three times because he would be given a brief questionnaire and each time, he would refuse to serve wherever ordered.

During an interrogation, an intelligence officer asked Shimo, “If Japan invaded the United States, which side would you fight for?” Shimo told him “I’ll fight for whichever side is defending the camps (where Japanese Americans were incarcerated).” This answer did not please the interviewing officer, and Shimo was never cleared to the leave the 1800th.

Once the war was over, each 1800th soldier was given a special hearing. Shimo was among those who were honorably discharged.

After his release from the military, Shimo returned to Boyle Heights. His parents, however, had been deported to Japan. Years later, Shimo would discover that his father had been picked up by the FBI because his father had been a kendo teacher and a member of the Budoku-kai, which the FBI mistakenly associated with the Kokuryu-kai or the Black Dragon Society. It would take them 10 years of dealing with the U.S. government before his parents could return to the U.S.

Shimo found employment with a then-little-known company but fast-growing corporation called, Honda Motor Company. At Honda, Shimo handled various multi-million dollar projects such as consolidating the different warehouses to introducing a uniform operating system between the different departments.

During the 1980s, when the U.S. and Japan were locked in a trade war, Shimo traveled all across the country, giving speeches not only on behalf of Honda but in order to quell the intense anti-Japanese sentiment sweeping the nation, which resulted in the murder of Vincent Chin, who had been killed by two unemployed American auto workers who mistook Chin for a Japanese.

Decades later, Shimo would receive a kunsho or medal of honor from the Japanese emperor for his efforts to bridge Japan-U.S. relations during the 1980s when Japan bashing was fashionable in the U.S.

After retiring from American Honda, Shimo became the only 1800th veteran to publicly speak about their wartime experiences and was an active docent at the Japanese American National Museum.

He was predeceased by two wives: Mitsuko Uyeno and Mildred Setsuko Sasaki. He is survived by his only son, Roderick; nieces Margie Matsui (Don Standefer), Jeanie Blaylock; Nephew Brent Matsui, and many relatives.

The family asks that no koden be sent and will have a private service under the circumstances of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place policy.

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