By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Cedrick Masaki Shimo, a World War II military resister and an executive at American Honda Motors, USA, passed away peacefully on April 1. He was 100.
Shimo was the only child born to Tamori and Yoshiko Urakami Shimo, both from Okayama. However, Shimo’s maternal family was originally from the Kagoshima region and had fought alongside Saigo Takamori.
Shimo was born in Heber, Calif., in the Imperial Valley. At the time, his father was running a sizable cotton farm in the Imperial Valley, but when the price of cotton collapsed, the family moved to Boyle Heights, where Shimo grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood, surrounded by Japanese, Russians, Mexicans, Italians, Jews and African Americans. He also lived in Japan for about a year.
His father found employment with The Rafu Shimpo but moved on to selling insurance and later fertilizer. He also started teaching kendo at the Evergreen Park gymnasium, while his mother taught Japanese at the Nichiren Temple, where Shimo also attended Japanese language classes.
When Chuo Gakuen was built, his father moved his kendo classes to the school auditorium, where Shimo assisted his father as an assistant kendo instructor.
Shimo was also involved with Chuo Gakuen’s Boy Scout Troup 197, which was just as big as the more well-known Koyasan Boy Scout Troup 379.
Shimo’s other love was baseball, and he was part of the Cougars baseball team.
After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1937, he enrolled at UCLA. When he became president of the UCLA Japanese American Business Students Club, he spearheaded a project that sent out questionnaires to 75 American firms, asking them if they’d hire a qualified Japanese graduate. The responses were discouraging. For example, Bank of America replied that they would never hire a Japanese, except for the Little Tokyo branch. These answers were published in The Rafu Shimpo.
The questionnaire was an eye-opener for Shimo, and he decided he wanted to pursue U.S.-Japan relations, so he was set to enroll at Keio University in Tokyo after he graduated from UCLA. However, just about that time, Congress passed a law that prevented men of military age from leaving the country. As a result, Shimo pursued graduate studies in international relations at UC Berkeley.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, Shimo was working on his thesis, in which he noted that the U.S. had passed an oil embargo against Japan. He felt this move might force Japan to attempt to take over the oil fields of Borneo. He never imagined that Japan would attack Pearl Harbor.
Shimo was also taking two courses at UCLA related to Japan, one of which was a political science course taught by a Caucasian. He recalled that a lot of the Caucasian students went on to work in Washington DC as Japan “experts.” And although these Caucasian students held similar opinions as Shimo, since he was a Japanese American, his views were considered “pro-Japan.”
On Dec. 8, Shimo received his draft notice from the Los Angeles draft board. However, when he went to the train depot to try to purchase a train ticket home, they would not sell him a ticket even after he showed them the draft summons. As a result, Shimo hitchhiked from Berkeley down to Los Angeles to be inducted into the military.
When Shimo was going through basic training, the Army had not yet segregated Japanese Americans from the other men. Shimo even led some of the close order drills since he had training from the Boy Scouts and ROTC at UCLA.
While he was still going through basic training, Shimo received a letter from his mother, informing him that his father had been picked up by the FBI. Many Issei community leaders were detained shortly after Pearl Harbor.
After basic training, Shimo was not issued a weapon but sent to a station hospital at Camp Grant in Illinois. There, he was promoted to corporal, and since he showed leadership abilities, his captain attempted to promote him further, but was stymied. His captain later told him that he was unable to promote Shimo because he was under observation due to his father’s case.
In March of 1942, a major came, asking for volunteers for the Military Intelligence Service. Shimo decided to volunteer and was transferred to Camp Savage in Minnesota. He was in the second class at Camp Savage.
After taking an aptitude test, Shimo was placed in the advanced class, which was a three-month class rather than a six-month class. He was only one of two Nisei in the class. The rest were Kibei (Nisei educated in Japan).
When news reached the MIS soldiers that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were being forcibly removed, Shimo took a furlough to help his mother pack and dispose of property, and then returned to Camp Savage.
The MIS soldiers were given another two weeks of furlough just before their graduation ceremony. Shimo requested to visit his mother, who by then was incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Authority camp. However, Shimo’s application was denied.
He was told that Japanese Americans were now excluded from the West Coast, and although he was serving in the U.S. military, there were no exceptions. This angered Shimo. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go visit his mother before shipping overseas to fight for the U.S.
Around that time, Shimo was given the loyalty questionnaire. Although Shimo answered that he was loyal to the U.S., he said he was no longer willing to serve wherever ordered.
He also wrote a letter to his commanding officer, saying that although he would like to remain in the MIS, he was no longer willing to go overseas. This got Shimo kicked out of the MIS.
Since the government didn’t know what to do with soldiers such as Shimo, he was initially transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he worked in the motor pool department. In total, 20 soldiers from Shimo’s entire MIS school were kicked out.
From the 525 to the 1800th
Shortly after, Shimo was given orders to transfer to the 525 Quartermasters Corps, which was composed of American soldiers of German, Italian and Japanese descent. Shimo, who up until then had the rank of corporal, was demoted to private like all the others who had ended up in the 525.
From there, the government formed the 1800th Engineer General Service Battalion.
While in the military, Shimo got promoted to private first class three times and got busted down three times because he would be given a brief questionnaire and each time, he would refuse to serve wherever ordered.
During an interrogation, an intelligence officer asked Shimo, “If Japan invaded the United States, which side would you fight for?” Shimo told him, “I’ll fight for whichever side is defending the camps (where Japanese Americans were incarcerated).” This answer did not please the interviewing officer, and Shimo was never cleared to leave the 1800th.
Once the war was over, each 1800th soldier was given a special hearing. Shimo was among those who were honorably discharged. Shimo also interpreted for the Kibei soldiers at the discharge hearings, and he noted that a lot of the Kibei were given “without honor” discharges (blue) and some were dishonorably discharged.
Decades after the war, Shimo still kept in touch with Hyman Bravin, the officer who had represented the Japanese American soldiers of the 1800th at the hearings. During the 1970s, Kiyoshi Kawashima, an 1800th veteran who had received a blue discharge, voiced his desire to have his discharge upgraded to an honorable discharge. Shimo took an active part in helping his fellow 1800th veterans try to get an upgrade.
Bravin, who was then a practicing attorney in New York, agreed to work on a pro bono basis and prepared for two years to testify before the Army Discharge Review Board, but before they even mounted a case, they were informed that all the 1800th veterans could have their discharges upgraded if they submitted applications.
After his release from the military, Shimo returned to Boyle Heights. His parents, however, had been deported to Japan. Years later, Shimo would discover that his father had been picked up by the FBI for being a kendo teacher and a member of the Budoku-kai, which the FBI mistakenly associated with the Kokuryu-kai or the Black Dragon Society. It would take Shimo and his parents 10 years of dealing with the government before his parents could return to the U.S.
Shimo found employment with a Chinese American import/export company, before going over to a then- ittle-known but fast-growing corporation called Honda Motor Company.
At Honda, Shimo handled various multi-million-dollar projects such as consolidating the different warehouses to introduce a uniform operating system between the different departments.
Shimo even learned about cattle breeding at Honda when the company decided it didn’t want to return empty container ships or airplanes that had shipped automobiles to the U.S. back to Japan. At one time, Honda was exporting thousands of tons of feed grain and live cattle to Japan.
During the 1980s, when the U.S. and Japan were locked in a trade war, Shimo traveled all across the country, giving speeches not only on behalf of Honda but in order to quell the intense anti-Japanese sentiment sweeping the nation, which resulted in the murder of Vincent Chin, who had been killed by two unemployed American auto workers who mistook him for a Japanese.
In his speeches, Shimo would explain that it wasn’t that Japanese companies such as Honda didn’t want to use American contractors. As an example, he would say that a lot of American companies they contacted were unwilling to convert to the metric system.
Shimo also gave another example where Honda had ordered small valves from an American company. A few days later, he received a phone call from Honda headquarters in Japan, complaining about defective valves. Shimo called the American company, whose representative asked him what percentage were defective. When Shimo answered one to two percent, the American company representative said that was within their guidelines. Shimo, however, told him that in Japan, Honda had a zero-defect system.
According to Shimo, Honda even shared their technology with another American company, which could not get the curvature in the windshields correct, leading windshields made by the American company to crack.
Shimo even received a letter from the president of the Automotive Dealers Association, thanking him for copies of his speech, which were used as ammunition against an anti-Japanese automobile bill that had been pending in Congress. The bill never passed.
Decades later, Shimo would receive a Kunsho from the Japanese emperor for his efforts to bridge Japan-U.S. relations during the tense trade war era of the 1980s.
After retiring from American Honda, Shimo became the only 1800th veteran to publicly speak about their wartime experiences and was an active docent at the Japanese American National Museum.
He was predeceased by two loving wives, Mitsuko Uyeno and Mildred Setsuko Sasaki. He is survived by his only son, Roderick; nieces Margie Matsui (Don Standefer), Jeanie Blaylock (Wayne); nephew Dan Matsui (Judy); grand-nephew Brent Matsui; many other relatives and wonderful life-long friends.
Regrettably, due to current circumstances no one is allowed to attend the funeral service or interment. The family requests that koden be directed to today’s entities in need. “Please share good memories of Cedrick’s life with your friends and family,” they said.
To Kristen Ostrofsky,
Upon reading about your uncle, Cedric, his story is heroic. Your loss is all of our loss.
Parents interned, Roosevelt High School, Chou Gakuen and Boy Scouts are common touch points I share with Cedric Shimo even though he is near 30 years older than I. Although I never met him, his story shows him to be the hero he was. Although I never met him I owe him a debt I can never repay. Bravery and spunk personified, thank you Cedric!
Thank you so much for the heartfelt, thorough obituary on my uncle, Cedric Shimo (his second wife, Mildred Shimo, is my late aunt).
-Kirsten Sasaki Ostrofsky, New York