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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fighting fascism

Courtesy of the Tagawa family
Jim and Katherine Tagawa as newlyweds in 1944.
Their families were still being held in the "Rivers"
detention camp in Arizona.

Bonnie Henry : From detention to Purple Heart

Bonnie Henry
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.27.2006

They were a couple of California teenagers with little in common. Her name was Katherine Otomo, daughter of a surgeon educated in Japan and England. His name was Mitsugi Tagawa, son of a tenant farmer who sold fish and vegetables out of his pickup truck. On Dec. 7, 1941, the trajectory of their lives would forever change with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Within months, tens of thousands of Japanese living in the western United States, native-born included, were forced into hurriedly thrown-together relocation camps — the victims of wartime paranoia. Katherine and Mitsugi, who now goes by Jim, were no different, even though both were born in the U.S.A.

Just months after the United States declared war on Japan, both were shipped to the Gila River Indian Reservation near Casa Grande, where two relocation camps known collectively as
"Rivers" seemed to spring up overnight in the barren desert.

"We arrived in a sandstorm. Every time we took a step, we were ankle-deep in sand," says Katherine, 82, who grew up near Los Angeles.

Flashback to the fall of '41: Katherine is a senior at Mark Keppel High School in Monterey Park, Calif. Her father has been dead two years, leaving behind a wife and six children.

Meanwhile, Jim is working the fields in California's Central Valley and attending school in Selma.
"I was born four days after my mother got off the boat," says Jim, 83, who learned English only after he started first grade.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he was cultivating a vineyard on somebody else's land when his sister came running.

"She said the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor." He ran to the house, where his parents were listening to the radio.

"They could not understand what happened," says Jim, who translated for them. "They were as shocked as everyone."

Like millions of other young American men, Jim tried to enlist, only to be told by his local draft board that he had been reclassified to "alien ineligible."

Even so, he says, "My parents were ready to accept it. They told me, 'This is your country.' "

As for Jim: "I was a little peeved. I shook Roosevelt's hand in 1932 when I was a Cub Scout and he came through Gardena in his open car."

As for his first impression of Rivers: "I thought it must be a POW camp. There was a barbed-wire fence, sentries, a watchtower with armed guards."

Camp was set up in blocks, each block containing 14 barracks, one mess hall and a recreation hall. Schools and a hospital would soon follow.

At its crest, Rivers would hold 13,000 men, women and children — the fourth-largest "city" in Arizona.

Jim's family was assigned to the end section of a four-unit barracks. "There were tarpaper walls and curtains for room dividers," he says.

Before long, he landed a plum job delivering the mail by truck at Rivers, first at Canal Camp, and then at Butte Camp. Pay was $19 a month.


By then, the U.S. government had reversed its stance on Japanese-Americans joining the service.

Jim promptly signed up, joining the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up solely of Japanese-Americans.

"There were 26 or so of us in camp who signed up," says Jim. "We left on a Greyhound bus."

Katherine was there to see him off. But there was no throng of well-wishers. "We were not that popular in camp," says Jim.

"You could leave if you were going eastward and could support yourself," says Katherine, who briefly landed a job taking care of a 4-year-old boy in Dearborn, Mich., before joining her sister in Chicago.

On Jan. 15, 1944, she and Jim were married in Chicago. The newlyweds then returned to the camp where their families were still incarcerated, Jim proudly wearing his Army uniform.

In May of '44, he shipped out to join the 442nd, newly linked to the famed 100th Battalion that had already slogged its way through Salerno and Anzio, earning the nickname the "Purple Heart Battalion."

Jim, who fought in Italy and France, would earn several honors himself, including two Purple Hearts.

"Four from my own company got the Medal of Honor," says Jim, who like the rest of the 442nd was feted with a heroes' parade in Washington, D.C., upon their return in the summer of '46.

Long before then, Katherine and her two sisters had saved enough money to move her mother and younger brothers out of camp to Chicago.

Meanwhile, Jim's parents had been released and given a train ride back to California's Central Valley, where they resumed working in the fields.

Like millions of other veterans, Jim went back to school on the G.I. Bill, earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and eventually going to work for IBM.
"My mom was very smart," says Katherine. "She told me in the camp, 'Use this as an experience. This is tough, but we can do it.' "

Japanese Americans were jailed, then drafted. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought with a number of divisions, including the 36th, 34th, and 92nd in Italy and Southern France, ending the war in Northern Italy as a regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division. The division had a white regiment, black regiment and the 442nd.

Twenty two members of the regiment won the Medal of Honor for service in World War II naking it one of the most highly decorated regiments in the history of the US Army.
Just Americans, by Robert Asoka is a recently published book about the regiment, their service and the discrimination they faced.

I bring this up because of the recent white house push to talk about fascism. They use cheap words to promote their failed ideas, but more on that later.

posted by Steve @ 1:16:00 AM

1:16:00 AM

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