‘Go For Broke Spirit’ at Building 640

A black-and-white portrait of a senior veteran is displayed.

‘GO FOR BROKE SPIRIT’ ­— World War II MIS veteran George Shimizu’s portrait by Shane Sato at The Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center in the San Francisco Presidio. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei News

The National Japanese American Historical Society is currently hosting “The Go For Broke Spirit” exhibit by Los Angeles-based photographer Shane Sato. The large portraits feature Japanese American veterans in uniform and an accompanying short story about them.

“When they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, I think if you look at the photos that he has taken, you deeply understand the meaning of that phrase,” Jana Katsuyama, a reporter with KTVU Fox 2 News, said in introducing Sato during a Nov. 12 luncheon at the Presidio Officers’ Club celebrating the historical society’s 10th anniversary of its Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center.

Sato, a professional photographer who worked in public relations for films, said he began his personal project to photograph veterans more than 20 years ago to help families talk about their wartime experiences, a discussion he was never able to have with his own family.

“My approach is to use art and photography, and to present to the younger generation a look into who these men were. Why did they fight for this country? What did they do before the war? What did they do after the war? And humanize who these people were. And then, hopefully, they will want to learn more about their heroics and what they did for the 442nd, as well as the MIS,” he said.

Sato asked Robert Horsting of the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance to be a co-author for his books and the exhibit, writing the stories of each of the veterans featured.

“So in 2014, (Sato) decided he would self-publish his book and asked if I would help him write, and I was really happy that he asked,” Horsting told the Nichi Bei News. “Photography has a way of drawing people in, and people love good portraiture, and they love great photography, and to be able to combine that imagery with a short story to give you a glimpse of who this is: That was a gift to these veterans and to the community and to the nation, because now it gave people insights into the depth of their stories and the depth of their sacrifice and then let them get a glimpse into their personal lives. (Sato) didn’t want this to be a history book, and to that end, it really helped change my style of writing to be more casual and to be more talk story-style. So if you read the book … you see everything from a war story to a glimpse into their childhood, and so some of these stories have nothing to do with the war, nothing to do with military service. And so it’s really nice that, in that sense, there’s a story for everyone, for every age group here.”

Sato said photographing the veterans has been difficult, as many veterans often declined his initial invitation to take their portrait. He said he owed his thanks to community leaders such as Rosalyn Tonai, executive director of NJAHS, who knew all the veterans.

“There’s usually one lady in all the different areas. Let’s say here, it could be Rosalyn Tonai. It was Stacey Hayashi in Hawai‘i, Debbie Kashino in Seattle. And whatever they said, the veterans would do,” Sato told the Nichi Bei News. “So once I found out who this lady was in every city, my project also became much easier. So working with the local head honcho there, it was much easier. … I’m handing out the books to the people, and one of the veterans goes, ‘Hey, I’m a veteran, how come I’m not in that book?’ And the lady who set this up goes: ‘Hey, he asked you like three times, you kept saying ‘no.’ And he goes,

‘Well, I didn’t think it was gonna be any good.’”

Sato had published “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage” in 2017 and “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Legacy” in 2019.

While based in Southern California, Sato said there were several veterans from the San Francisco Bay Area in the exhibit, including George Shimizu, a World War II MIS veteran, as well as more recent veterans like Brandon Yoshio Quan, an MIS veteran from the war in Afghanistan.

“The Go For Broke Spirit” exhibition will be on display through March 31, 2024. The Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center is located at 640 Mason St., in the San Francisco Presidio on Crissy Field. Building 640 is open on weekends Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Group and school tours available Monday through Friday by appointment. Admission is $10 or free for veterans, children 12 and under, or NJAHS members.

“The Go For Broke Spirit” exhibition will be on display through March 31, 2024. The Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center is located at 640 Mason St., in the San Francisco Presidio on Crissy Field. Building 640 is open on weekends Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Group and school tours available Monday through Friday by appointment. Admission is $10 or free for veterans, children 12 and under, or NJAHS members.

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