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The Journey of the Flag Signing Project Continues

Since my last article in May, I have continued my journey to have Japanese American survivors of the World War II incarceration camps sign a 48-Star American flag (read it here). I wanted to provide an update on the flag signings which included visits across northern, southern, and central California.

On May 28, 2021, I flew from San Jose’s Norman Y. Mineta International Airport down to Los Angeles to meet with retired California Court of Appeal Justice Kathryn Doi Todd so that she could sign the flag. We met at the 2nd District Court of Appeal in downtown Los Angeles where Justice Todd shared a photo of her parents being fingerprinted at Tule Lake. As a child, Justice Todd spent time at both Heart Mountain and Tule Lake. Justice Todd and her brother (David Doi, who was born in Tule Lake) would both later attend law school and both become Superior Court Judges in Los Angeles County. Justice Todd was appointed to the bench by California Governor Jerry Brown in 1978, becoming the first Asian American female judge in the United States. Thank you to George Wada and Daren Mooko for taking photos of the visit with Justice Todd.  

Retired California Court of Appeals Justice Kathryn Doi Todd holding picture of her parents being fingerprinted at Tule Lake (left); Justice Todd signing 48-Star flag (right).

After meeting with Justice Todd, I invited George Wada to join me on my drive to Orange County to visit with Don Miyada (Poston) and his wife Setsuko (Gila River). Don is a WWII Veteran who served with the 100th Battalion, 442nd RCT, “Able” Company. We had a nice visit as Don shared stories of his brothers also serving during WWII and of his family’s produce business/stand in Orange County before the war. 

Don and Setsuko Miyada at their Orange County home on May 28, 2021.

Yoshio “Yosh” Nakamura holding his French Legion of Honor Medal and also wearing his Congressional Gold on May 28, 2021.

Next, George and I visited with Yoshio “Yosh” Nakamura (Gila River) and his daughter Linda Nakamura (a local attorney) at their home in Whittier. Yosh was also a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII and shared his bio sheet “that he was inducted into the enlisted reserve before reporting for active duty from the Gila River Incarceration camp where his family and other Japanese Americans were held captive.” After WWII, “the GI Bill gave Yosh the opportunity to receive his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Fine Arts from USC.” Yosh would go on to a “Hall of Fame” teaching career at Whittier High School and then at Rio Hondo College. Yosh’s philosophy is “to take every opportunity to learn from experience as a foundation for the future and to treat people fairly, look for the good in them and to remember that what you do when something happens to you is more important than what happens to you.” (Thank you to veteran James Nakamura from the Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670, Orange County for connecting me with 442 Veterans Don Miyada and Yosh Nakamura). 

Former Heart Mountain High School Eagle football star Keiichi Ikeda after he signed The Eagles of Heart Mountain book in Los Angeles on May 28, 2021.

George and I then drove back to Los Angeles and met up with Keiichi Ikeda (Heart Mountain). Meeting with Keiichi was extra-special for me because I had been trying to track down and meet up with him after I read the book, The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America. The book documented that Keiichi was one of the star high school football players of the nearly unbeatable Heart Mountain Eagles. As a football fan, a student of history and working in the legal profession, this book resonated with me and it was great meeting with Keiichi to sign my copy of the book and to have him sign the flag. 

Betsy Ikeda Marumoto signing the flag at her home in Los Angeles on May 28, 2021.

The last visit of the day took us to the home of Betsy Ikeda Marumoto (Heart Mountain/Jerome). It was a pleasure visiting with Betsy and her daughter Staci (Staci’s husband Tim is also one of our California Superior Court Judges in Los Angeles County). 

Also, a big “THANK YOU” to George Wada for tagging along with me all day on May 28—we had great conversation about the flag project and he helped keep me awake while driving and we were able to use the carpool lane too.

The next morning on May 29, I drove out to the City of Monterey Park (Los Angeles County) and met with a good group of folks at Sequoia Park to sign the flag. Willie Ito (Topaz) was the one of the first to arrive and he shared his story and career as an animator working with Walt Disney Studios (Lady and The Tramp), Warner Bros., and Hanna-Barbera (Jetsons, Flintstones, Scooby Doo). Former Belmont High School teacher and coach Yosh Arima (Rowher/Tule Lake) also arrived and signed the flag. My friend Colleen Miyano calls Coach Arima “the John Wooden of Belmont.” Thank you to Richard Murakami (Tule Lake, Jerome, Heart Mountain) and his wife Masako Iwawaki Murakami (Gila River, Tule Lake); Bill Shishima (Heart Mountain); Masao Yamashita (Topaz); Norma Jean Yamashita (Tule Lake); Kiyo Fukumoto (Heart Mountain); Shunji Hosozawa (Heart Mountain); and Makoto “Mak” Shiroishi (Rohwer/Tule Lake). A shout out to Mak for also sharing/bringing 1945 group photos of his family and himself at the different prison camps. Another huge “Thank you” to Colleen Miyano and Bacon Sakatani (aka Mr. Heart Mountain) for making the Monterey Park event a success.

From left to right: Masako Koga Murakami, Richard Murakami, Bill Shishima, Emi Shishima, Willie Ito, Masao Yamashita, Norma Jean Yamashita, Kiku Arima, Sei Miyano, Yosh Arima, and Bacon Sakatani.

After Sequoia Park, I drove to the home of 442nd RCT Company A Veteran Tokuji “Toke” Yoshihashi where he graciously allowed me to sift through his old photo albums of his military training days at Camp Blanding, Florida, to photos of his army buddies at Mt. Grammondo, Martime Alps, and Franco-Italian Border (November 1944 – March 1945). It was a great visit with Toke and I thank him and his daughter Pauline for their hospitality.

Toke and his daughter Pauline Yoshihashi holding the 48-Star flag (left); Toke Yoshihashi showing his 1940s photo album of his army buddies on May 29, 2021 (right).

Takashi Hoshizaki holding the flag at his home in east Hollywood on May 29, 2021.

My last visit of the day on May 29 was with Takashi “Tak” Hoshizaki (Heart Mountain) in the east Hollywood area. It was great visiting with Tak as he shared his story of being at Heart Mountain and I learned he was one of the 63 men who were convicted (as one of the younger defendants, Tak was sent to federal prison at McNeil Island, Tacoma, Washington, while the older defendants were sent to Ft. Leavenworth) for objecting to being drafted as long as his civil rights were being denied and his family was being held in detention. Tak would later serve in the U.S. Army from 1953–1955 and then ultimately embark in his career with NASA and the Burns Institute with UCLA. Tak is also a Board Member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

Captain Kiyo Sato (USAF retired) signed at the California Museum on June 5, 2021. Kiyo is one of the few female veterans to sign the flag.

The following weekend on Saturday, June 5, I brought the flag to the “Go For Broke” Japanese American Soldiers of WWII postal stamp ceremony—thank you to Josh Kaizuka (co-President, Florin JACL – Sacramento Valley) and the California Museum in downtown Sacramento. I was able to observe the ceremony and then have some VIP’s sign the flag including: Christine Umeda (Tule Lake/Topaz); Keiji Takagi (Tule Lake); Esther Hokama (Tule Lake); the Honorable Judge Charles Kobayashi (retired) (Tule Lake); Lois Nishimura (Tule Lake); Lester Ouchida (Jerome/Gila); Marielle Tsukamoto (Jerome); Sacramento U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (Poston); Veteran – Captain Kiyo Sato (United States Air Force) (Poston); and Fusa Takahashi (Amache)—one of the co-founders for the Go For Broke stamp campaign. It was also neat to buy a copy of Kiyo Sato’s book—Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream – A Memoir

Early Sunday morning on June 6, Josh and I visited two senior assisted living facilities in Sacramento and had a number of folks sign the flag. We then traveled back to downtown Sacramento to the Nisei War Memorial Community Center where we had a great turnout of folks to sign the flag. In fact, so many people showed up to sign (which was great) I did not have any time to hear or learn about their stories. 

Group photo of folks who signed the flag at the Sacramento Nisei War Memorial Community Center on June 6, 2021 (seated on the ground to the left of the flag is Josh Kaizuka, co-President, Florin JACL - Sacramento Valley).

Nonetheless, the weekend was a huge success thanks to Josh Kaizuka (at the time of this writing Josh is on his annual motorcycle ride throughout the U.S.—ride safe my friend). Thank you as well to Christine Umeda for helping me out and logging all of the names/camps of the folks who signed on Sunday at the Nisei War Memorial Community Center. 

June and Milton Momita signed the flag and brought the book, Americans: The Story of the 442d Combat Team (Copyright 1946); Walnut Creek, CA on June 9, 2021.

On June 9, I had the pleasure of meeting Milton (Poston) and June Momita (Jerome/Heart Mountain) in Walnut Creek, CA. Milton shared with me that his father served during WII with the 442 and then Milton shared the book, Americans: The Story of the 442d Combat Team. It was great spending some time with Milton and June. I hope to have Milton’s sisters Louise (Gardena) and Naomi (Chula Vista) sign the flag soon. 

Also, on June 9, I drove to San Pablo so that 442 veteran Frank Mizufuka (aka Frank Mizuo) could sign the flag. However, when I arrived I was informed that there was a breakout in his senior assisted living facility so I was not able to meet Frank in person. I was able to have his nurse bring the flag to Frank and have Frank take a photo with the flag and a “Go For Broke” challenge coin. 

Sunnyvale, CA on June 12, 2021. From left to right: Milton Hamasaki, Jane Yoshikawa Okashima, Yutaka Kawazoye, Harry Ohara, and Calvin Yoshikawa.

On Saturday, June 12, I took the flag to Sunnyvale, CA and had a few folks sign, including Calvin Yoshikawa (Heart Mountain) and his sister Jane (Yoshikawa) Okashima (Heart Mountain); WWII Navy Veteran Milton Hamasaki (Gila); Harry Ohara (Manzanar); Yukata Kawazoye (Gila/Tule Lake); Bill (Tule Lake) and Joan Nishimoto (Poston). Thank you to Lauren Ogata for coordinating this meeting with her family members. 

On Saturday, June 19, I drove out to Fremont, CA to meet with Sachi Fudenna (nee Kamiji) (Topaz) and her sister, Michiko “Michi” Handa (nee Kamiji) (Topaz), and their family friend, Kay Hisaoka (Gila River)—thank you to Lauren and husband Michael Rogers. Michael’s grandmother is Michi Handa. I also asked Michael to write to me about his grandfather, Isao “Ace” Handa (passed away on 8/11/20), who was at the Gila River internment camp when Ace was drafted and assigned to the 442nd RCT; Ace fought in Italy with the RCT, breaking through the Gothic Line and celebrating V-E Day as one of the youngest men in the unit; after the war Ace married Michiko “Michi” Kamiji in 1951 in San Jose and later helped found the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church. (Note: Michael attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and was commissioned into the Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant; Michael was a helicopter pilot who was deployed to the Asia-Pacific region (including performing humanitarian assistance missions to earthquake and tsunami-stricken Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake; he was also deployed to Afghanistan; Michael also obtained his Master’s degree in Diplomacy and Military Studies with his master’s thesis focused on Japanese American military service during WWII and its effects on the post-war Japanese American community; he left active service after 10 years in 2015 at the rank of Major)

Group ohoto in Fremont, CA on June 19, 2021. From left to right: Kay Hisaoka, Bob Fudenna, Elaine Fudenna, Jo Ann Rogers, Michi Handa, Sachi Fudenna, Lauren Ogata, and Michael Rogers.

On Sunday, June 20, I drove down to Watsonville, CA to meet two great folks: Mas and Marcia Hashimoto. Mas (Poston) is a retired U.S. History teacher who has been teaching on the topics of racism and America’s concentration camps for many years (you can view his TEDx Talk on Youtube). Mas and Marcia opened up the Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL Kizuka Hall Senior Center and it was an honor to have Mas, Chiyeko Hibino Shikuma (Poston), and Grace Sugidono Fujita (Poston) sign the flag. I then followed Mas and Marcia to a assisted senior living facility in Watsonville where Mas and Marcia introduced me to Dr. Masako Miura (age 106, famous for the Manzanar riots—hiding the leader of the JACL (Larry Tajiri) in the hospital from the pro-Japan crowd) and Mrs. Hisako “Louise” Sako (age 102, a high school classmate of Gordon Hirabayashi of Auburn High, Washington State. It was an honor to have Dr. Miura and Mrs. Sako sign the flag. (Note: after the Sacramento signing, the first flag was nearly filled with signatures, so, I had to obtain a second 48-star American flag) 

Watsonville on June 20, 2021. Front row (left to right): Chiyeko Hibino-Shikuma, Grace Sugidono-Fujita; Back row (left to right): Mas Hashimoto, Chiyeko’s daughter, Grace’s daughter, and Marcia Hashimoto.

On Sunday, June 27, I visited with the Fudenna family again to take a group photo of the family in front of Tak Fudenna Stadium in Fremont, CA (and thank you to Sachi and Michi and the family for inviting me to join the family for a delicious BBQ lunch). I also asked Michael Rogers (above) to write to me about his great-uncle, Takeo “Tak” Fudenna (Topaz) who served in the 442nd RCT: Sachi’s late husband, Takeo Fudenna, was also at the Topaz camp, though they did not meet each other until after both returned from the War. Sachi said she remembered that Tak had a red Corvette and she thought he was rich because he had such a nice car. Their parents would not let them go alone on dates though so Michi and Tak’s younger sister Irene would pile in the back seat on road trips around the Bay, with the top down as much as possible. Tak was a farmer and involved in the local community. He led the effort for Fremont’s high schools to have a proper football stadium which was built in 1972. Tragically, Tak was killed in an accident prior to the stadium’s completion and the opened stadium honors his legacy as Tak Fudenna Memorial Stadium. High schoolers in Fremont still play their home games at “Tak.” 

Group photo of Fudenna family on June 27, 2021 outside of Tak Fudenna Stadium in Fremont, CA.

On Monday, June 28, I traveled to the Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo, CA (Ventura County) and had the honor of Dale Kunitomi (Heart Mountain, Colleen Miyano’s brother), Irene (Gila) and Shig Yabu (Heart Mountain), Prentiss Uchida (Tule Lake/Heart Mountain), Kathy Ito (Heart Mountain), and Ruth Tamaki Miyano Beadles (Rohwer) sign the flag (group photo). Shig Yabu wrote the book, Hello Maggie! (illustrated by Willie Ito)—a true story about a scavenger magpie bird and a boy who missed his pets. Another huge “THANK YOU” to Dale Kunitomi for helping coordinate and organize my visit to Camarillo and to Shig Yabu for reserving the space/room at the Boys & Girls Club for the signing. 

Boys & Girls Club, Camarillo, CA, on June 28, 2021. From left to right: Dale Kunitomi, Irene Yabu, Ruth Tamaki Miyano Beadles, Kathleen Ito, Grace Kunitomi, Prentiss Uchida, and Shig Yabu.

Veteran Aiko King (and co-founder of “Go For Broke” soldiers stamp campaign) signed the flag on June 28 in Camarillo, CA, along with her son Wayne King.

While in Camarillo, I also visited with Aiko King (Amache)—one of the co-founders (along with Fusa Takahashi and the late Chiz Ohira and Wayne Osako) of the “Go For Broke” soldiers stamp campaign. It was also an honor to meet Aiko as she is one of the few female veterans (former Army Nurse) to sign the flag. A big thank you to Aiko’s son, Wayne King, for coordinating this visit—we had Aiko sign the flag next to Fusa (photo of Wayne and Aiko).

Last visit of the day on June 28 took me back to Gardena (Los Angeles County) where I met with Kazuaki “Henry” Nakatsukasa (Poston) and his sister Suyemi “Sue” Nakatsukasa (Poston). This was a really neat visit because Sue brought out an old Singer sewing machine that she had at Poston (and it still works!). We had a great visit and I am planning to visit with Henry and Sue’s three other sisters (Shiz, Kiyoko, and Masako) that reside in Fresno, CA. 

Sue Nakatsukasa with her Singer sewing machine from Poston internment camp (left); Sue and her brother Henry Nakatsukasa signing the flag in Gardena, CA, on June 28, 2021 (right).

I will write about my July 5 visit to Gardena Valley JCI (Los Angeles County) and Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670 (Orange County) in the next update. The flag journey continues… 

Upcoming signing events:

  • July 28, 2021 – Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, 211 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City, UT, 1 p.m.–3 p.m.
  • August 1, 2021 – Watsonville/Santa Cruz JACL – Kizuka Hall, 150 Blackburn Street, Watsonville, CA, 12 p.m.–3 p.m.
  • August 10, 2021 – Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2454 Beretania Street, Honolulu, HI, 1 p.m.–4 p.m.
  • August 15, 2021 – Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, 2751 Louis Road, Palo Alto, CA, 1 p.m.–4 p.m.
  • September 19, 2021 – Buddhist Temple of San Diego, 2949 Market Street, San Diego, CA, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
  • October 9, 2021 – Christ United Methodist Church, 219 N. Mary Drive, Santa Maria, CA, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

Potential upcoming locations with times TBA – Manzanar, Fresno, Portland, Phoenix, Little Rock, Denver, Boise.

© 2021 Johnny Cepeda Gogo

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