By Koji D. Kanemoto
Before December 7, 1941, my dad, uncle and aunt were living at 1904 E. Fir Street in Seattle, Washington. They were all American citizens. Dad registered for the “Selective Service” as all American boys were required to do. He was “1A”.
However, after Pearl Harbor, Dad received an amended draft card, postmarked January 19, 1943 from the Selective Service. It was addressed to him in prison, Block 5705a. The Selective Service had re-classified him from 1A to 4C. Enemy Alien. No expiration date, either. Like today’s pre-packaged donettes in a vending machine. Believe it or not, he had to carry it in his wallet. Even in prison.
Dad was one of about 10,000 “inmates” in a “camp” out in Minidoka, Idaho, during World War II, imprisoned en masse in early 1943 by FDR’s Executive Order. Many, like dad, were American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Unfortunately, they looked like the enemy.
Upon imprisonment, they had their passports confiscated, were fingerprinted and their “mug shots” taken. They were assigned an inmate number. Adult, child or baby.
My dad, uncles, aunts and cousins were imprisoned. A couple of cousins were born in camp. One young cousin died in prison. Six year old Bobby passed away there, soon after being transferred from Tule Lake, CA on May 3, 1943. (“42-11-F” stands for Block 42, Barrack 11, Room F”.)
In spite of forced imprisonment by their own government, there was a war going on. While dad was not one of them, more than 1,000 young Nisei boys and men volunteered for duty in the US Army out of Mindoka alone. For their country. America. Seventy-one lost their lives fighting for the red, white and blue. Many were bestowed medals from combat.
One medal stands out – the Medal of Honor. It was posthumously bestowed. The recipient was Private First Class William K. Nakamura.
He was born and grew up in the same place as my father – Seattle, Washington – in the International District. They also went to the same high school (Garfield). PFC Nakamura became attached to the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Private First Class Nakamura’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:
Private First Class William K. Nakamura distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 4 July 1944, near Castellina, Italy.
During a fierce firefight, Private First Class Nakamura’s platoon became pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a concealed position. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura crawled 20 yards toward the hostile nest with fire from the enemy machine gun barely missing him. Reaching a point 15 yards from the position, he quickly raised himself to a kneeling position and threw four hand grenades, killing or wounding at least three of the enemy soldiers. The enemy weapon silenced, Private First Class Nakamura crawled back to his platoon, which was able to continue its advance as a result of his courageous action. Later, his company was ordered to withdraw from the crest of a hill so that a mortar barrage could be placed on the ridge. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura remained in position to cover his comrades’ withdrawal. While moving toward the safety of a wooded draw, his platoon became pinned down by deadly machine gun fire. Crawling to a point from which he could fire on the enemy position, Private First Class Nakamura quickly and accurately fired his weapon to pin down the enemy machine gunners. His platoon was then able to withdraw to safety without further casualties. Private First Class Nakamura was killed during this heroic stand.
Private First Class Nakamura’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States.
PFC Nakamura was killed on July 4th.
Editor’s note: Although he is too humble to mention it, Kanemoto’s father, Koso, volunteered for duty in February, 1947, and became part of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), where he helped to interrogate Japanese prisoners and translated at the War Crimes Trials in
Tokyo for the U.S. Army. The enormity of the role of Japanese American soldiers in the MIS in World War II was only declassified in 1972. The story is told in Koji Kanemoto’s excellent blog, Masako and Spam Musubi.
Joe Miller, AtticExplorers.com
Thanks to Koji Kanemoto for sharing this story with AtticExplorers.com. All photos are from Mr. Kanemoto, with the exception of the photo of Pvt. Nakamura’s gravesite, which is by Wes Harmon and is used by his kind permission.
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