This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Recently, several Japanese-American men gathered in Los Angeles to remember the events of 70 years ago. All the men were veterans. They served in the U.S. armed forces or did other work for the government during the war. At the same time, their families were held in internment centers in the United States.
The Japanese-American veterans met recently in the “Little Tokyo” neighborhood of Los Angeles. They served in the U.S. Army’s combat, construction and intelligence units. They served the country while their families were being held in camps on the West Coast. Sixty percent of those detained were U.S. citizens. The families were not released until the war ended.
Yoshio Nakamura was one of the veterans at the gathering. He says he always believed that one day people would understand that the detentions were illegal. He says he and other Japanese-Americans fought proudly for their country.
“And I also felt very strongly that we needed to show that we were patriotic Americans.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. government apologized for forcing Japanese-Americans to live in the camps.
Bill Seki leads the education center where the gathering took place. He says Japanese-American soldiers fought honorably and well.
“And through their battles as a segregated unit, they ended up becoming the most decorated unit in Army history for their size and duration.”
Many of the veterans at the gathering took part in heavy fighting. Tokuji Yoshihashi was in the mostly Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion. That unit helped defeat German forces in northern Italy. Their efforts were described in a U.S. government film made during the war.
“Important and decisive battles, and each time these men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Combat Team have been right out in front.”
Mr. Yoshihasi remembers the fighting in northern Italy.
“…most beautiful sight I ever saw was four P47s (US planes) come in and they rocketed and machine-gunned the German position, and that kinda helped us break through.”
Some Japanese-Americans had family members who served in the U.S. military and others who fought for Japan. Ken Akune and his older brother served in the U.S. Army. Two of his younger brothers were from Japan and belonged to the Japanese military. He knew he could meet one of them in battle.
“What will you do if you met him in a field and he’s got the gun for you? You know, at that point you start to think, well, you know, it’s a means of survival, you know. But the point is, I never let that thing bother me at all.”
After the war, the brothers met in Japan.
“And they stood up and we stood up and we were ready to go at it but my dad was there and he said: ‘Hey, the war is over. Forget it,’ you know. So after the time, we never talked about it.”
Many veterans lost good friends in the war. Their names are written on a monument at the education center. The monument has meaning to veteran Don Miyada.
“It signifies to me the sacrifices of many good men.”
He says the marker, and gatherings of veterans, will help keep their sacrifices from being forgotten.
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA Correspondent Mike O’Sullivan reported this story from Los Angeles. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
internment – n. the act of putting someone in a prison for political reasons or during a war; the act of interning someone
proudly – adj. with great satisfaction or honor
segregate – v. to separate or divide people based on their race or ethnicity
decorate – v. to give a medal or award to (someone, such as a soldier)
duration – n. the length of time that something lasts
unit – n. military a single thing, person or group that is a part of something larger
decisive – adj. very clear
go at it – idiomatic phrase, fight
monument – n. a marker or statue that honors a person or event
signify – v. to be a sign of (something); to mean (something)
Are observances of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II taking place in your country? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.