Interned and shunned during war: Japanese Americans recall their resistance

By Ted Bell

Sacramento Bee Staff Writer



They were cast out by the outcasts.

They are the Japanese-American men who refused to fight in World War II after the U.S. government interned them and their families in camps.

Stigmatized by U.S. society that imprisoned them and called them disloyal Americans for resisting the draft, they were also pariahs to other interned Japanese-Americans – the families that sent husbands and brothers to the Army’s renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The resisters remained outcasts for years, condemned by the Japanese-American Citizens League. Still, men from the Amache Relocation Camp near Grenada, Colo., who resisted and served their prison time in Tucson, Ariz., have met quietly for reunions in Sacramento for years.

On Saturday, joined by some of the men from the Heart Mountain, Wyo., camp, a group of 25 went to the Sacramento History Museum to examine the exhibit on Japanese-Americans, including a special display on the war years.

Noboru Taguma peered at a photograph of himself taken more than 50 years ago. Terry Uyemoto turned away from the others to be inconspicuous as he wiped the tears from his eyes and his memories.

Japanese culture stresses obedience and maintaining honor, said William Hohri, a Chicago author of “Repairing America” and a leader of the movement that won reparations for interned Japanese-Americans. “The big thing in the war (among the Japanese-Americans) was volunteering for the Army, obeying the law.

“As a result, these men who resisted the draft on constitutional and moral grounds were pariahs,” Hohri said.

But they held firm because of their belief in America, the men said.

“We weren’t Japanese. We were – and we are – Americans,” said Mits Koshiyama, of San Jose.

“We were following the American ideals we had been taught,” Koshiyama said with the same fervor that drove him to his decision to refuse induction 50 years ago.

“The Constitution, our Constitution, was founded in the right to protest when your rights are violated.”

“We were shoved into the camps and everything that I had learned about due process didn’t count for anything,” said Joe Norikane of Pleasant Hills. “I said that until my rights were restored, I wasn’t going to fight for this country.

“I’d do it again.”

Hohri said history and Hollywood makes much of the thousands of Japanese-Americans who volunteered for military service in segregated units during World War II. But it fails to note a little-publicized fact.

“There were 315 resisters from the camps. . . . That’s very comparable to the 805 men from the camps who volunteered (for military service),” Hohri said. “The reason you had thousands volunteering is because those men were from Hawaii, where there was no internment of Japanese-Americans.”

Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a combat hero of the 442nd, has said that “had his family been interned in a camp, he doubted that he would have ever volunteered for the Army,” Hohri said.

“There was quite a bit of conflict between the returning veterans and the resisters after the war and some of that remains today,” Hohri said. “The Japanese-American Citizens League took a very strong stance against the resisters.”

The stand taken by the resisters has sparked a new interest from a new source: the younger generation of Japanese-Americans.

“Many young people are asking their parents and grandparents, “Why didn’t you resist, take action? . . . Why did you let them take everything and put you in camps?’ ” said Taguma’s son, Kenji.

“Now, through my father’s stories and reading, I feel like I was there,” said Kenji Taguma, 22, who did much of the work needed to put the reunion together. “I would have done the same thing.”

But memories can harden feelings.

“There were some sincere people who I respect,” one 442nd veteran recalled Saturday. “But there were also some agitators who attacked me and some of my friends who volunteered, saying we were suckers and were blindly committing ourselves to an unknown cause. I just can’t forget that. It hurt.”

The veteran asked that his name be withheld.

“You have to understand that this issue runs very deep among us,” he said. “There are members of my family that were split over it and I don’t want to make the wounds hurt more.”

There are other kinds of wounds.

“Last year I retired and I went to the Social Security office to fill out some forms,” said Joe Norikane’s wife, Tetsuko, as she stared at photographs taken at the Tule Lake camp.

“The woman behind the counter all of a sudden started saying things like “You people deserved the camps’ and “You people had the much larger army.’

“That’s disgusting. Why can’t some people get it through their heads that I am an American native?”

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