Tom Graves with Terry Shima of the Japanese American Veterans Association at the opening of the MIS Historic Learning Center in San Francisco last year. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Tom Graves with Terry Shima of the Japanese American Veterans Association at the opening of the MIS Historic Learning Center in San Francisco last year. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

It’s been one year since publication, but Tom Graves’ work on “Twice Heroes: America’s Nisei Veterans of WWII and Korea” continues unabated, with no letup in a busy schedule of exhibits, book talks and presentations.

His latest talks took place in the South, to audiences who may be more familiar with the veterans’ history.

On Aug. 5, he made a “Twice Heroes” presentation organized by the Mississippi State Military Museum, the Southern Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society, and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, the location of Camp Shelby, where Nisei soldiers trained during World War II.

Camp Shelby is still an active military training facility in geographic and cultural proximity to Hattiesburg. Older city residents may remember the Nisei soldiers, and those interested in history know the legacy of the 442nd. Graves will be interviewing some of them.

On Aug. 7, Graves spoke on the “Twice Heroes” story to an audience at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The museum’s exhibit on the Nisei World War II veterans, “From Barbed Wire to Battlefields,” will run through Oct. 12.

“Twice Heroes” recently earned the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award, regarded as one of the highest national honors for small and independent publishers. Nearly 1,300 books in different categories competed this year for Benjamin Franklin Awards. “Twice Heroes” won in the history category, considered one of the most competitive.

IBPA has joined readers in recognizing “Twice Heroes” as one of the most significant books on the history of Japanese Americans who fought for the U.S. while their families were interned throughout World War II. The Nisei became the most decorated soldiers in U.S. military history, and received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor, in 2011. Graves was there, photographing the ceremony.

Sadly, the “Twice Heroes” family recently lost a member: Yeiichi Kelly Kuwayama, a 442nd medic, passed away in Washington, D.C. He is pictured on the original book cover (a second cover features Sen. Daniel K. Inouye). Noted for his bravery under fire, Kuwayama treated and saved the lives of many 442nd soldiers, including the late Sen. Inouye. Kuwayama himself was wounded in battle, and earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Combat Medic Badge, and numerous other awards from the U.S., France, Italy and Great Britain. He never spoke of himself as a hero.

The only book of its kind, “Twice Heroes” combines the veterans’ experiences with 98 striking portraits taken by the author. Graves has been collecting veterans’ stories and portraits since July 4, 2001. He has become passionate about teaching the Nisei veterans’ story and of the ugly years of prejudice against America’s Asian community, and speaks frequently at libraries, schools and universities, church and civic groups’ gatherings, and many Japanese American community events.

More meaningful than the award, Graves says, are the notes and emails he receives from veterans and their sons and daughters acknowledging the significance of the book to their own families’ history and to the legacy it preserves for generations to come.

“Thank you for telling our story,” many of the notes say.

Graves is a San Francisco photographer and writer with over 30 years’ professional experience. He studied portraiture with LIFE photographer Philippe Halsman, and taught for seven years at Parsons School of Design/The New School (now New School University). Photography has taken him to five continents and to all 50 states for clients AT&T, Cisco, IBM, Merrill Lynch, The New York Times, People, and Time magazine.

He has photographed and interviewed nearly 300 veterans of World War II and Korea across the country.

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