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Two Japanese American Soldiers, Two Best Friends, and a Crossroad

The Japanese American experience consists not only of the creation of internment camps, but also numerous other significant elements of World War II such as the formation of the famous all-Japanese American 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The 100th Division originated from Hawaii and was launched on June 1942. Following the 100th’s Battalion’s success, on February 1, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the 442nd Infantry. Some of the young boys from the mainland in the internment camps chose to enlist, while others were chosen from the draft for the 442nd. In June 1944, the 100th and 442nd combined, sharing the motto “Go For Broke.” It was the motto that the majority of these men lived by, as well as a significant element of these soldiers. The motto was originally used as a gambling term, which meant “all or nothing.” As described by family members, it was more than just a motto, it was a symbol of the soldiers’ determination to prove their loyalty. The motto meant that they would sacrifice their lives to prove our loyalty to America. As a result, they would later be known in history as the “Purple Heart” battalion, as well as described as the most decorated infantry unit in American history with regard to size and length of service. Not only did these boys prove their loyalty to America, but they also showed that given a dream, not even a whole nation could stand in their way. The all-Japanese American 100th/442nd Regiment Combat Team is like the symbol of a “Y” shaped crossroad; however, unlike a typical crossroad of either right or left, no path was disloyal or unjust, but rather both paths led to the same end point that was the result of bravery and courage.

It is because of my ancestral history that I felt a strong need to share my own familial history in Nikkei Album. I found the Nikkei album as an excellent way to get one’s own family history into the public’s eyes. After studying numerous family photographs and hearing and reading such indescribable stories of certain photos, the photos seemed themselves to come alive. Therefore, photos can be seen as one-dimensional storybooks.

For my own project, I chose to focus on my maternal grandfather and great uncle, who were both soldiers of World War II in the 100th/442nd R.C.T. Each of these men had very unique stories of their World War II experiences, differing in physical outcome, but similar in the larger picture.

It was during this project that I began to encounter some difficulties. I discovered that trying to conceptualize and organize my ancestors’ stories was not easy. Thus, I could not use certain photos because there was no knowledge of where and when the photos were taken. As a result, I had to turn to letters, photos, government documents, and oral histories. It was through these items that I was able piece together the story of Kay Kei Kusumi, and Masao Shigezane. My grandmother, Sumiko, was able to bring the entire project together for me by providing me with information that neither letters nor pictures could depict. She provided me with not only historical information, but also the insights on my grandfather and great uncle.

As a student of Asian American Studies, as well as an individual of Japanese American ancestry, I have always been honored to be able to call such individuals as my own blood relatives; but it was only after I did extensive research about these individuals’ pasts that I have a new appreciation of them. I now see them as more than just men with ambition, courage, and determination, but rather as modern day heroes. Each stood eye to eye with discrimination and foreign enemies, risking their lives to prove their loyalty to America, and won.

Once I was able to sort through my thoughts and through the photos, my ancestors’ stories came alive through Nikkei Album. As a result, I began to feel as if I was there with my grandfather and great uncle along their journeys from throughout their childhood and time spent with the 100th/442nd R.C.T.

My grandfather, Kay Kei Kusumi was born on April 28, 1924, in Auburn, Washington to Mr. Fukunosuke and Mrs. Hide Kusumi. As a child of Issei parents he was taught many of the traditional Japanese traditions. However, as an American born individual, he had many different views and opinions. Eventually he along with his family moved to Los Angeles together to begin a career in gardening. On May 7, 1943, Kay was inducted at Fort Logan, Colorado. He was then transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi where he began his basic military training. Afterwards, he was placed into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Service Company.

My maternal great uncle, Masao Shigezane was born on July 7, 1925 to Mr. Kinzo and Mrs. Yasuko Shigezane in Los Angeles, California. He was the fourth eldest son of seven children. In 1943, Masao received a letter at his family’s barrack in Amache, Colorado that stated that he was to report immediately to the recruiting office. Unlike Kay, due to the reopening of the draft, Masao underwent very brief basic training. It was an estimated few weeks before he was sent to the European front in Italy to join the 100th Battalion, Company B.

The war served as a “Y” crossroad for these two best friends. While Kay was able to return home and see the benefits that would come years after the war, Masao was not physically able to see the changes. While the roads they walked down differed in their physical fates, the crossroad led them to the same end point—the visibility that Japanese Americans are loyal citizens. They each fought for a future in which America would not judge individuals based on ethnicity, but rather on the individual him or her self. Thus, they succeeded in displaying that being American is not a physical aspect, but rather an internal one.

As a child my grandfather would often tell me the importance of being a Japanese American, and once said that it is when he sees his children and grandchildren have equal rights, and have numerous friends of other ethnicities that he knows that he and Masao’s duties as soldiers were worth the cause. It was these words by my grandfather that started my research on Nikkei Album. I began to work backwards. I went back to see why and how my grandfather had said this, and what I came to discover was an amazing story of two Japanese American Soldiers, two best friends, and a crossroad.

Above all, I strongly feel that as a fourth generation Japanese American it is my duty to continue to learn, understand, and teach others of my family’s history because it is through learning one’s own family history that I feel one can truly only begin to know him or her self. Nikkei Album has given me that opportunity, not only was this a wonderful educational experience, but also an opportunity for my family’s history to be brought alive and eternalized. My family was so enthused about the project, due to the fact they see the Nikkei Album as the younger generation’s key to the past, as well as a tool for eternalizing the Japanese American Experience. Furthermore, their sacrifices and victories will not only be remembered, but also physically seen. My Nikkei Album, along with other memorials such as the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles and the 100th/442nd Memorial for soldiers KIA at Evergreen Cemetery will be here for future generations to come. Therefore, such historical items eternalize the Japanese American heroes of the United States of America on a first hand basis.

Click here to view Brandon’s Nikkei Album collection: “Two Japanese American Soldiers, Two Best Friends, and a Crossroad

Kusumi, Sumi. Personal Interview. 11 Nov 2007

* This article was originally a term paper written for a class titled, “Japanese American Experience” Asian American Studies 131A instructed by Professor Lane Ryo Hirabayashi at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Winter Quarter, 2007. In lieu of a traditional term paper, students were given the option to create a Nikkei Album collection and write a short paper describing the collection and the creation process. -ed.

© 2007 Brandon Shindo

442nd family family history grandfather Kay Kei Kusumi Masao Shigezane student World War II