DRAFT RESISTER: Rights Violated, He Wouldn’t Fight

By Jeannie Wong

Sacramento Bee Staff Writer



In 1942, Noboru Taguma was ahead of his time.

While most people now condemn the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, Taguma expressed his feelings loudly and clearly 50 years ago.

He resisted the draft. He was among only about 300 Japanese-Americans — all interned — who did so, saying that forced detention violated their constitutional rights.

It was an unpopular move, one that is still frowned upon by some in the Japanese-American community and is overlooked by most history books.

“I don’t care,” said Taguma, now 68 and living in West Sacramento. “I did it mainly for my parents, the other Issei (first-generation Japanese). What they were doing to them, to all of us, was wrong. I was going to fight, but in the courts.”

In a terse letter to the government, Taguma ticked off the reasons why he would not report: “I felt that refusal to cooperate with Selective Service was the most effective protest I could make against injustice suffered,” he wrote. “Had I not been deprived of these constitutional rights, I would have gladly accepted . . . military service.”

Taguma was to be joined by about 30 other young men – a handful of them from Yolo County – who also were interned in a camp at Amache, Colo. They were all to be imprisoned for their resistance.

In looking back, Taguma said he would not have done anything differently. “It was the prime of my life, but I’m still glad I did it,” he insisted.

Tales like Taguma’s and of a group of young draft resisters in Heart Mountain, Wyo., need to be heard if the true history of internment is to be learned, said Wayne Maeda, guest curator of a Sacramento exhibit on the Japanese-American experience.

Taguma agreed.

“The only thing I regret is that I could not help my folks,” he said. “They were poor from the beginning, and I was going to help them modernize their farm. I was young and strong. But then the war came, and I never had the chance.”


Noboru Taguma stands beside a scale model of a typical barracks in which Japanese-American families lived at the camps.

Bee/Skip Shuman

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Noboru Taguma, Nisei draft resister and longtime farmer, dies

Noboru Taguma cutting his home-grown gobo.

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Noboru Taguma, a longtime farmer and Nisei draft resister who took a principled stand during World War II, passed away peacefully at his home in West Sacramento, Calif. on March 11, 2011. He was 87.

A native of Broderick, Calif. who was born on April 3, 1923, he retired in the early 1990s after farming tomatoes for 45 years, mostly for Campbell’s Soup, around Clarksburg, Yolo County, Calif.

During World War II, he and his family of nine were uprooted from their home in Broderick (now part of West Sacramento) and forcibly relocated, first to the Merced Assembly Center — a converted fairgrounds where they spent four months — and then to the Granada (Amache) concentration camp in Colorado.

He was one of only 300 young Nisei to resist a military draft imposed behind barbed wire based upon constitutional principle — and one of just 36 such young men from the Granada concentration camp. He stated he would gladly fight for his country if his family was released from the wartime concentration camps and his citizenship rights were restored.

While awaiting trial, the young Nisei resisters from Granada were visited by two leaders from the Japanese American Citizens League — Min Yasui and Joe Grant Masaoka. While the young Nisei men were eager to meet with them, one by one they were told to go into the U.S. Army. Noboru Taguma and two other resisters who similarly voiced their anger — in his case, yelling at the two and then slamming the door — were then sent to solitary confinement in an apparent attempt to break their will.

Once shunned by so-called “community leaders” and subject to community ostracism, the resisters today are heralded for the civil rights stand they took.

After serving his sentence at a Tucson federal labor camp, he relocated to the town of Granada, Colo. to be near his family. Although he was barred from the camp, every night for about one month, he either walked or hitchhiked three miles to the Granada (Amache) concentration camp, timing the searchlights on the guard towers and sneaking into camp to be with his family. There, he would eat or watch movies, and leave when warned about the presence of military police. Again, at the risk of getting shot, he snuck back out of camp, trekking back to the town of Granada.

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Noboru Taguma’s reasons for resistance

Noboru Taguma’s reasons for resisting the military draft were laid out in a tersely-worded letter to the government.

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50th Wedding Anniversary photo, 2008

Noboru and Sakaye Taguma and family celebrate their 50th anniversary. Top Row, L to R: Ben Kam, Masako Carol Yasue, Makoto Mark Taguma, Kenji Glenn Taguma, Alice Taguma, Kristie Taguma and Andy Irie. Bottom Row, L to R: Cheryl Yoko Taguma, Lauren Mayumi Irie, Mariko Sharon Taguma with Spencer Minoru Kam, Sakaye Taguma, Noboru Taguma, Brandon Kota Irie, Machiko Gail Irie with Michael Shinzo Irie, Jason Shohei Irie and Elise Makiko Kam.

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Noboru Taguma — April 3, 1923 to March 11, 2011

Noboru Taguma at Seabrook Farms, New Jersey, 1947

Friday, March 11, 2011

My father’s stand during World War II — a young Nisei who refused to be drafted for the military while behind barbed wire — has been documented by various publications, about four or five articles in the Sacramento Bee, the Wall Street Journal, as well as a couple of books (“Fence Away From Freedom,” and a Japanese-language book on resisters by Prof. Yukio Morita, etc.).

It is his stand on principles that has driven me, particularly my desire for social justice and historical accuracy. He’s been an inspiration during these past two years of struggle to form a nonprofit newspaper in the worst of economic times in decades, and will always be my hero.

Early this morning, as the world witnessed the disaster in Japan where my two eldest siblings reside, my father passed away at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento at 12:31 a.m.

My sister Mari and I were rushing to Sacramento from the Bay Area, but we were too late. Noboru Taguma, or the “Tomato King” as my mom calls him, is no longer with us physically, but his spirit will live on.

Thank you, dad, for teaching me about pride and principle.

Noboru Taguma – April 3, 1923-March 11, 2011

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New Book Brings Little-Known Story of Nisei Resistance to Japanese Readers

"Amerika Nikkei Nisei no Chohei Kihi" is a comprehensive book on Nisei draft resistance by Professor Yukio Morita

October 18-24, 2007


Nichi Bei Times

For some 50 years, the story of Nisei draft resisters was virtually written out of popular Japanese American history texts, which overlooked the group of young men who refused to be drafted for military service while they and their families were imprisoned behind barbed wire in wartime concentration camps.

A renewed interest emerged as the once ostracized group of men — labeled as “cowards” or “traitors” by so-called Japanese American leaders and the U.S. government — became seen in a different light.

Today they are considered heroes, and while the knowledge of their experience pales in comparison with the more popularized story of Nisei veterans — who fought gallantly in the European and Pacific theaters — more Japanese Americans know about them thanks to various documentaries like “Rabbit in the Moon” and “Conscience and the Constitution,” as well as books such as “Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II.”

While the story of the Nisei resisters is trickling into the collective consciousness here, it is surely unknown in Japan. Continue reading

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Historic JACL Ceremony Recognizing WWII Resisters Called a “First Step” in Reconciliation

May 14, 2002

Historic JACL Ceremony Recognizing WWII Resisters Called a “First Step” in Reconciliation

Resisters Challenge JACL to Further Examine Wartime Role

Nichi Bei Times

SAN FRANCISCO — As he walked onstage to receive recognition for a stand he took close to 60 years ago, Susumu Yenokida asked for the microphone for an impromptu speech.

“There’s a letter up here, ‘dream,'” said Yenokida of Galt, Calif., referring to an inscription on the wall of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, where some 400 people had gathered May 11 for the historic occasion. “Never would I ever dream that I would be here today, 60 years ago.”

The landmark Japanese American Citizens League ceremony to recognize Nisei draft resisters of World War II, and apologize to them for not recognizing their stand sooner, included many such poignant moments.

Other emotional moments included when Dan Kubo, son of Amache concentration camp resister Yoshi Kubo, pointed towards the ceiling upon receiving the recognition onstage by the JACL — a gesture to his late father. Shortly thereafter, he pointed to a throng of family members gathered in tribute to the late family patriarch.

Some 315 resisters challeged the U.S. government draft during World War II, most of them serving federal prison terms. President Harry Truman subsequently pardoned them in 1947.

For the resisters — who said they would gladly fight for the country if their families were released from concentration camps and their citizenship rights were restored — the ceremony was vindication. JACL leaders and others had ostracized the resisters over the years, calling them cowards and even saying they should be tried for sedition. Continue reading

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Arizona campsite to honor resisters: West Sac man one of former prisoners

By M.S. Enkoji

Sacramento Bee Staff Writer


Page B1


Noboru Taguma will board a bus today and ride up a highway he first traveled more than 50 years ago as an embittered young man, handcuffed and leg-chained.

He will gaze down the mountain slope as the road rises and recall the steepness that frightened him that uncertain night as he headed to a federal prison camp high in the mountains above Tucson, Ariz.

On this trip, instead of the stark barracks where he stayed for nine months, he will find picnic tables, campsites, a horse corral and hiking trails — a place of honor for a long-ago protest against injustice, a place the U.S. Forest Service will dedicate to people like Taguma.

“It was the only time us farm boys had a chance to fight for our rights,” said Taguma, 76, of West Sacramento, who refused to join the U.S. military during World War II.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the federal government evacuated his family, along with 117,000 others of Japanese descent, from their West Coast homes and moved them into remote internment camps. The same government soon came around and recruited young men in the camps, like Taguma, to join the U.S. armed forces.

Though 20,000 answered the call, eager to prove patriotism and loyalty, another 300, including Taguma, couldn’t justify what the government asked.

“I don’t know what I’d be fighting for,” said Taguma. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

As long as his parents languished behind barbed wire after a life of hard work, Taguma would not go. Continue reading

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Apology for WWII imprisonment debated

By Marcos Breton

Sacramento Bee Staff Writer



They were prosperous Californians, local farmers who were American to the core.

They were rounded up and isolated for the way they looked, shipped to desolate camps while leaving behind all they owned.

And then they were drafted by Uncle Sam to fight Nazi Germany during World War II. Most Japanese Americans answered the call, an often fatal summons to service endorsed by leaders of their community, people desperate to prove their loyalty and allegiance to America.

But some said no, refusing to risk their lives on some distant battlefield while their families remained interned back home. More than 300 of them, mostly California boys, went to prison instead, sent in shackles while leaving behind a community where they were outcasts.

“Our own people called us traitors,” said one of those men, 76-year-old Noboru Taguma, a retired West Sacramento farmer whose sunny demeanor turns stone cold when the old stories are recalled.

Like it or not, this summer has been a time of bitter reflection for people like Taguma who refused to serve, as well as those of his generation who marched into combat despite suffering the indignity of internment.

Indeed, a half century of bad feelings have found new life since the Japanese American Citizens League — the largest Asian American organization in the country — recently issued a resolution apologizing to men like Taguma.

While most organizational resolutions are merely symbolic, this one is an attempt by the Japanese American children and grandchildren of the World War II generation to heal a half-century-old wound. Continue reading

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Draft Resisters Tell Of Pain: WWII Disloyalty Charges Still Haunt Internees

By Art Campos

Sacramento Bee Staff Writer


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Mits Koshiyama and Frank Emi waited nearly 50 years to tell their side of the story.

As young men, the two Japanese Americans were sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming with their families when World War II broke out. Stripped of their constitutional rights, they were then asked to defend their country by being drafted into the army.

Both said no. Both ended up in prison.

“The government was asking us to fight for the very freedoms that were being denied to us,” said Koshiyama, 68, of San Jose. “It was unjust.”

“Had we stayed quiet and gone along with it, nothing would have happened,” said Emi, 76, a resident of San Gabriel. “But the government went too far suppressing our rights. Then they added insult to injury by drafting us.”

For standing by their convictions, the two men have lived most of their lives branded as “troublemakers” by a segment of the Japanese American community that felt the men should have served in the armed forces to prove their loyalty to the United States.

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman pardoned Koshiyama and 262 other Japanese Americans who were convicted and placed behind bars for refusing to be inducted into the armed forces. Emi and six other leaders of a group calling itself the Fair Play Committee had their convictions overturned on appeal.

But to this day, a huge rift continues to exist in the Japanese American community between supporters of the draft resisters and those who felt the protesters were disloyal.

On Tuesday, the subject was discussed in a forum at California State University, Sacramento. Koshiyama and Emi were panelists and they recounted their stories for about 100 listeners. Continue reading

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