By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The long-awaited Go For Broke postage stamp honoring the Japanese American soldiers of World War II was formally dedicated on June 4 in Los Angeles, the first city of issuance.
The dedication ceremony was held at the Japanese American National Museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo with the organizers of the Stamp Our Story campaign and a few Nisei veterans in attendance.
“The Nisei veteran story is an integral part of Japanese American World War II history as it is from the U.S. incarceration camps that many of them volunteered or were drafted,” said ABC7 news anchor David Ono, who served as emcee. “Their legacy is a testament to Nisei values, Japanese American values of honor, duty and perseverance. We are gathered here today because of … the perseverance and dedication of three women …
“With the formation of the Stamp Our story initiative, that was back in 2005, they wanted a Nisei World War II veterans stamp to ensure the service and sacrifices of the 100th, the 442nd, the 522nd, the MIS, the WACs (Women’s Army Corps), the 1399th and other units could be honored and more widely known. We certainly know that our world needs to know the story, now more than ever.”
Ono recognized Stamp Our Story founders Fusa Takahashi, Aiko O. King and the late Chiz Ohira for “their true Go For Broke spirit.” Takahashi attended the event with her granddaughter Kimi Thompson. King was represented by her son Wayne and Ohira by her son Dr. John Mitamura. Campaign co-chair Wayne Osako was also present.
The guests of honor were veterans Yosh Nakamura, 442nd Regimental Combat Team; Don Miyada and Toke Yoshihashi, 100th Infantry Battalion; and Ralph Matsumoto, Military Intelligence Service.
There was a video message from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Elected officials in attendance included Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside and State Sen. Jani Iwamoto from Utah. Noted cartoonist/animator Willie Ito created an illustration for the event.
Keyboardist Kimo Cornwell of Hiroshima performed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There were also video tributes from Jake Shimabukuro, Minidoka Swing Band and Sacramento Taiko Dan.
A video shot the day before showed the veterans and the Stamp Our Story group visiting the nearby Go For Broke Monument as well as the Japanese American National War Memorial Court, which recognizes service members killed in action in conflicts from the Spanish American War to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Welcome from JANM
JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs noted that this was the museum’s first in-person event in 14 months. Speaking as the daughter of a World War II veteran, she told the Nisei veterans, “We would not be here if it weren’t for you and our debt to you is extraordinary.”
Thanking the U.S. Postal Service for making the stamp a reality, she said, “The launch of the stamp could not be more timely or more urgent, especially as we are confronting the hateful rise of anti-Asian hatred across the country … Collectively we have an enormous duty … to stand up against that. And for us to be able to host you here is a privilege …
“It’s no accident that JANM was built on this place because it was exactly on this site that Japanese Americans from this area were forced together to board the buses that would take them on to the incarceration camps. As the rumors of war were circulating. It was in our historic building next door that the parishioners of Nishi (Hongwanji) gathered together to talk about what the impact would be on them, on their families and their lives. And it was in the basement of that building where many of the parishioners stored their possessions for the duration of the war. So I see … our campus as being one of those extraordinary Ground Zero points in the civil rights history of this country …
“This building … was Sen. Daniel Inouye’s vision. He built the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy … He brought that arc of history from that promise of America, those ideals Japanese American veterans fought for, that those soldiers, those men and women served for, that they were willing to die for.”
Burroughs noted that JANM’s collection includes the diaries and letters of two local Nisei soldiers, Henry Kondo and Stanley Hayami. “Neither of these men were to survive the war, but their legacy lives on … Two exceptional men, two exceptional Americans who chose to fight prejudice on two fronts … The stamp that we commemorating shows their profound commitment as Americans to this country. They loved the country of their birth, the country of their heart, and they have important lessons to teach us.”
A Word from USPS
Speaking on behalf of USPS was Executive Plant Manager Daniel Hirai. “We honor the bravery and the sacrifices of the Japanese American soldiers of World War II, more than 33,000 Nisei soldiers … The Nisei interpreters gathered intelligence in the Pacific. (Nisei soldiers) flew glider planes over enemy lines in Germany. They built bridges and defused mines in Italy …
“My two great-grand-uncles fought in both Italy and in Germany in World War II … I grew up in Hawaii listening to exploits of these Nisei fighters … Their motto was Go For Broke. It’s slang that means all in, to risk everything and to make an all-out effort to win … They have been part of my heritage and my inspiration to take risks, to face challenges and to be successful in another great institution, the United States Postal Service.
“Now I consider myself very fortunate to be present at this moment where these two great institutions meet as the Postal Service presents a stamp honoring these brave soldiers. This meritorious stamp is available now in post offices nationwide, or you can visit usps.com.”
Hirai, Takahashi, Thompson and Osako unveiled a poster-size version of the stamp.
Greetings from Hawaii
Lynn Heirakuji, president of Nisei Veterans Legacy in Hawaii, addressed the gathering by video. “All of the Nisei veteran organizations here in the state are excited to see the launch of this new stamp, the first in U.S. postal history to feature an Asian American soldier,” she said. “There’s a big story behind the Go For Broke soldiers stamp here in Hawaii. We’re especially proud that the image for the stamp is based on a photo of Shiroku Whitey Yamamoto, a Hawaii Nisei soldier. He was born on Hawaii Island in 1923 and volunteered to serve in the 442nd. He fought in Italy and France, and when he returned to Hawaii, he continued to serve by volunteering at the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii for over 20 years. He passed in 2018 at the age of 95 ….
“Many men, including my own father, served during World War II, despite a pervasive atmosphere of prejudice against Japanese Americans … It is falling upon us to make sure that their story is told, a story of bravery and sacrifice on the battlefields in Europe and the Pacific. But it is also a story of what they did when they returned from the war to change things for the better here in Hawaii. They helped to break down societal barriers, take a stand against discrimination, instill cultural pride, and as a result created greater opportunities for future generations.
“At a time when our nation is facing increasing divisions and a rise in anti-Asian sentiment … the stamp brings attention to the importance of upholding equality and justice.”
Another video featured the founding members of the campaign and their families as well as wartime footage of Nisei soldiers. Also on video, actor Derek Mio (“The Terror: Infamy”) read letters from Sadao Munemori, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to save his comrades, and Ted Tanouye, the only Medal of Honor recipient from Torrance. A live reading of letters from Henry Kondo was given by Wayne King and James Nakamura.
Stamp Our Story
Kimi Thompson, speaking on behalf of her grandmother Fusa Takahashi, said, “When I think back on the last 15 years and how dedicated Grandma has been to making this stamp a reality, I’m filled with so much awe and admiration. From the flyers you passed out by hand, to the hundreds of letters you wrote, to the thousands of signatures you collected, to asking us grandkids to think of a hashtag to spread the message even further, you did it, Grandma. #StampOurStory is here.
“This stamp is such a special way to honor the Nisei men and women that served in World War II. As Grandma explains, a stamp is tangible and universal. It will generate broader awareness, inspire conversations and encourage learning, especially in light of what we’re seeing echoed today. This stamp will forever be a reminder of the importance of the Nisei soldiers’ contribution …
“My grandpa, Kazuo Takahashi, was one of these soldiers. He was part of the MIS, which provided translation and counter-intelligence. Grandpa passed away before I was born, so I never got to hear his stories first-hand, but Grandma always wanted their story to be told. How Grandpa was drafted into the U.S. Army while incarcerated at Topaz internment camp. How Grandma, at 14 years old, her parents and her six siblings were uprooted and sent to the Merced assembly center and the Amache internment camp in Colorado, and how they had to leave everything behind, including their family dog.
“This is a part of history that I didn’t learn about in school, but I’m so grateful to have learned about it through Grandma’s stories and throughout the stamp campaign. There are three things that we’ll always have from Grandma’s stamp journey. First, I am proud of my Japanese American heritage … I’m proud that Grandma came up with the idea for the stamp at 78 years old and persevered for over 15 years to make this happen. Second … I’m thankful for the previous generations who have paved their way through hard work, sacrifice and loyalty. I’m thankful for my Grandma’s co-founders Chiz and Aiko and Wayne Osako, who has been such a driving force in making Grandma’s dream come true.
“And finally, I’m hopeful that the Nisei legacy is a part of history that we should all be proud of and a part of history that all Americans should know about. My hope is that through this stamp, more people will learn, listen to and amplify stories like Grandma’s. Grandma, on behalf of your four kids, your 10 grandkids and your three great-grandkids, congratulations. We are so proud of you.”
Messages from Texas
Sandra Tanamachi from Texas spoke on behalf of the family of the late Marty Higgins, commander of the Lost Battalion, which was rescued from the Germans by the 442nd during a bloody battle in France. “I met Marty Higgins in July 2004,” she explained. “When we were preparing to testify before the Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court to change the name of Jap Road, he wrote a letter to the commissioners asking them to change the name of the road because of the many sacrifices of our Nisei veterans.
“One of the veterans who was killed in action during the rescue was my uncle, Saburo Tanamachi. He died in the arms of his best buddy, George Joe Sakato. After my uncle died in his arms, Joe went on a rampage, which earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Uncle Saburo was one of the first two Japanese Americans to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Many Nisei veterans wrote to the commissioners protesting the name Jap Road, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, Joe Sakato, Lawson Sakai, and so many of our heroes.”
Tanamachi read a letter from Higgins’ daughter, Mary Pat Higgins, who said that her father had a lifelong association with the Nisei and helped lobby Congress for passage of an immigration bill that granted U.S. citizenship for the Issei in 1952. “Dad would be so delighted that the Nisei veterans, many of them his friends, will be honored with the Go For Broke Nisei soldier stamp,” the daughter said.
Leslie Tramer spoke on behalf of her late father, Erwin Blonder, radio operator of the Lost Battalion.
“If not for the bravery and courage of the 442nd, I would not be standing here today,” she said. “Without the determination of the band of brothers, the Lost Battalion would have perished at the hands of the Germans in the Vosges Mountains in France. Our family wants to thank those who fought so bravely and for the great sacrifice that they make … and we are so grateful that the heroism of the 442nd is being honored by the stamp.”
She quoted her father as saying, “This was the toughest battle any unit in the American Army ever fought. No other outfit in the U.S. Army had the will and fortitude to accomplish what they did in the Vosges. They went through hell to get us.”
Tramer added that her father introduced her and her sisters to Nisei veterans. “It was our great privilege and cherished honor to know them. He kept in touch with many of the men who rescued the Lost Battalion, and he worked diligently to make sure that they were recognized … What happened 77 years ago … had a profound effect on the values and ideals that were passed down to us, his three daughters, and now to our children and our grandchildren.”
Reflections on Campaign
Wayne King, speaking for his mother Aiko, recalled, “It was her obsession. She often expressed such a sense of urgency … It had already been 50-plus years since the war ended. By the time the stamp campaign was conceived, many of the veterans had already passed away. She wanted so badly for the stamp to be issued before too many years …
“Fortunately, they found Wayno Osako. When presented with the idea for the stamp and asked if he would help out, Wayne was all in. He became the driving force that brought it over the finish line. In sales, they tell you that every ‘no’ brings you one step closer to a ‘yes.’ I can assure you that Wayne and the three ladies got far more than their fair share of ‘nos.’ For Wayne, my mother, Fusa and the late Chiz Ohira, I don’t think ‘no’ was ever an acceptable option for them. It would take however long it would take to get it done.
“Service to others without hesitation, without reservation at great risk and sacrifice to oneself, loyalty to country, honor, integrity, humility, and don’t embarrass your family. These are the qualities that describe the brave Nisei men and women who served our country during World War II. They showed their patriotism even when many of their families back home were being incarcerated by the very country they were fighting for …
“I hope the stamp helps bring recognition not just to the Japanese, but to all minorities who’ve suffered discrimination by this country they call their own.”
Dr. John Mitamura, Ohira’s son, talked about his parents. “Ted Ohira was born Makawele, Kauai, and he tricked his mom at the age of 17 to sign papers to get him to join (the Army). He fought in Italy and France and for courage and valor under fire, he was awarded a bronze medal.
“My mom was very active with the vets and the families, and when offered to participate in the commemorative stamp project, she jumped right in and she talked to people and she’d give her signature dollar bill folded frogs. She’d always say, ‘If you run out of money, you can always unfold the frog and spend it.’ So she would be so gratified and so, so happy that this finally came to fruition.”
Osako said that the stamp campaign extended to France, where towns that were liberated by the Nisei soldiers still honor them today. “If you ever go there, you’ll see streets named after the 100th/442nd, and I really hope someday we’ll see more streets here too.”
Osako said, “Both my parents were incarcerated as young teenagers … and they didn’t know what they did wrong. They were put into the camps. Then they’re like, what? Why is everybody treating me so strangely? … The only wrong was that the government treated them like the enemy because of the way they looked … Throughout their lives, I know they kind of struggled with it … but they endured, and that’s what this Go For Broke soldier stamp embodies too, the endurance, the longevity.”
The Democracy Forum was decorated with strings of cranes folded by students from the Anaheim Elementary School District. With Ohira’s origami and the Japanese tradition of folding 1,000 cranes in mind, Osako spoke with his daughter’s teachers at an elementary school in Anaheim. “They were inspired by you, Fusa, Aiko and the campaign and they said yes, we’re going to do a curriculum. We’re gonna fold cranes … The spirit of the Go For Broke battle cry is embodied in endurance and longevity in these cranes.”
Based on the coalitions that have been built over the years, Osako said, “We’d like it to continue. So we need Native Americans, Navajo Code Talkers. They would deserve a stamp. Let’s stamp their story. There are many stories out there and let’s embrace each other and our differences. Let’s unite as humans and celebrate and honor this legacy.”
The program also included a spoken-word tribute by hip-hop artist Kaze Jones and a performance of “Thousand Cranes” by Cornwell and kotoist June Kuramoto of Hiroshima.
The stamps were sold outside the Center for the Preservation of Democracy and later in front of JANM.
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo