By J.K. YAMAMOTO. Rafu Shimpo
“The Go For Broke Spirit: Legacy in Portraits” is on view through Nov. 24 at the George J. Doizaki Gallery of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.
The exhibit celebrates the publication of the second book by photographer Shane Sato and oral historian Robert Horsting, “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Legacy,” a follow-up to “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage.”
In addition to portraits of Japanese American veterans, the exhibit includes a video featuring seven veterans — three from the Korean War, three from the Vietnam War, and one from the Gulf War.
An opening reception was held on Nov. 3. Following introductory remarks by JACCC President and CEO Patricia Wyatt, Ken Hayashi, a Vietnam vet, spoke on behalf of the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance, of which he is president.
“Once you see this show or you see this book, I’m sure you’ll agree that [Sato] has a unique talent for bringing out and capturing the personalities of the sometimes very stoic veterans,” Hayashi said. “It was labor of love. He and Robert Horsting put in countless hours producing the new book you see today, as well as this exhibition, to honor the veterans …
“How honored I am that my picture is included with those of my heroes, the Nisei veterans of World War II. Despite the fact that their families were still imprisoned, they chose to serve America. It was because of their great courage and magnificent record in battle that subsequent generations of Japanese Americans were not considered second-class citizens … They opened the door for our Sansei generation. We stand tall as Americans because we stand on their shoulders. As veterans, we salute you. As Americans, we thank you.”
He explained the purpose of the Japanese American National War Memorial Court, located outside the JACCC. “Most of you have been to a funeral with a military honor guard … An officer of the guard kneels to present [the flag] to the next of kin. As that presentation is very personal, you may never have heard what he says … ‘On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a token of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service’ … There can be no more honorable or faithful service than to give your life in service of your country.
“The parents of almost 1,200 Japanese Americans received that flag and heard those words … They and their families will never forget.”
Organizations of Japanese American veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War “were compelled by a sense of duty to remember and honor their comrades who did not return home,” Hayashi said. “They built the Japanese American National War Memorial Court so that our community and our nation never forget their sacrifice.”
The memorial includes names from other conflicts, from the Spanish American War (1898) to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation … to preserve and maintain the memorial court, educate, inform and present forums on the contributions of Japanese Americans in all the wars of the United States,” Hayashi said. “With the last of the three organizations set to disband soon … the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance accepts this mission … but we need your help. We’re an all-volunteer organization. Maintaining the memorial court and presenting programs like Memorial Day services … as well as preparing for the almost inevitable acts of vandalism or natural disasters, all require money. Please help us … with your generous donations.”
Horsting said that working on the oral histories has been a rewarding experience, and that in some cases even the veteran’s own family was not aware of his experiences. “This book is a means by which we can broadly share their story beyond the Japanese American community.”
Horsting thanked Sato for having the foresight to start photographing the veterans, many of whom have since passed away, many years ago.
“I really want to share the story, not just of the veterans, the military and the historical thing, but I wanted to bring out their personality,” Sato said. “So when you look at these portraits, I hope that you’ll be able to see some kind of personality, something about them that humanizes them, makes you want to learn more.
“That’s where the stories come in, that’s where the books come in, and hopefully you’ll be able to take this book home, set it on the coffee table, and it will start conversations between yourself and your family, or if you’re lucky enough to have one of these vets as a relative, to personally ask questions. My family did not talk about the war, nor did they talk about camp … I’m sure that some of you have had the same experience where your family never spoke to you about these things. I’m very happy that you’ll be able to take a look at this book.”
He added, “I hope to travel this show. I hope to talk to people who don’t know about the internment, who don’t know about the Nisei veterans and don’t really know anything about Japanese American history.”
On hand to sign copies of the book were World War II veterans who appear in the first or second book: Mas Tsuida (who just turned 100), Toke Yoshihashi, Don Miyada, Yosh Nakamura, Don Seki (the “cover boy” of the first book), Min Imamura, Frank Wada, and Hit Ohara. Veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and Gulf War were also on hand.
A public forum featuring veterans from the various wars followed on Nov. 9.
Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m.
Sponsored by the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance, the exhibit is made possible with support from the JA Community Foundation and California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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Photos by OLIVER CHIEN