By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Fusa Takahashi is a little hard of hearing these days, but mention the “Go For Broke” soldier stamp and she smiles widely and says in a firm, cheerful voice, “I was really thrilled! It was unbelievable, we really didn’t think we would be able to get it.”
Takahashi said the message of the stamp is important particularly in these times.
“I want to say … always be proud of your heritage and who you are and be proud that you’re Asian American.”
Takahashi, 94, one of the three Nisei women who led the years-long campaign for the stamp, will travel from her home in Granite Bay near Sacramento to be at a first city of issuance unveiling ceremony on Friday at the Democracy Center in Little Tokyo.
The stamp pays tribute to the approximately 33,000 Japanese Americans who served during World War II, many enlisting as their families were incarcerated in desolate concentration camps.
A pop-up booth will sell the new stamps on Friday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, First Street and Central Avenue, where Takahashi and life-long friend Aiko Ogata King first hatched the idea. King’s son, Wayne King, will attend the ceremony on her behalf.
“We went to JANM, where we saw this exhibit on the Nisei soldiers and what they accomplished in the fields of Europe and the Pacific,” Takahashi explained during a Zoom interview. “I felt we needed a broader audience to know what the soldiers did and try to figure out the best way to get to a broad audience … We thought of this stamp.”
Wayne Osako, Stamp Our Story campaign co-chair, explained that L.A. was selected for a lot of reasons.
“The stamp campaign started here. Fusa, Aiko and Chiz (Ohira) started campaigning for that in 2005 with family and friends. It quickly grew to include other states and to include organizations and even in France, where the Nisei soldiers liberated towns,” Osako said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo. ”A lot of Nisei soldiers came from the greater Los Angeles area. A lot of Medal of Honor recipients, some of whom are interred at Evergreen Cemetery.”
The stamp was designed by Antonio Alcalá and is based on a photograph of the late Whitey Yamamoto, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from Hawaii. The photograph was taken in 1944 at a railroad station in France.
Yosh Nakamura, 442nd RCT, Don Miyada, 100th Battalion, and Tokuji Yoshihara, 100th Battalion, are scheduled to attend the invitation-only celebration on Friday. Osako said that while the ceremony has been scaled back due to COVID-19, L.A. County’s recent move to the Yellow Tier has allowed more people to attend.
“It’s grown to something closer to what we wanted. The veterans will be there and some dignitaries to properly welcome the stamp to our community,” he said.
The Nisei soldier stamp is the little stamp that could: a grassroots campaign that had to overcome many obstacles to finally come to this moment. Among the challenges the campaign faced was a USPS policy that prohibited new stamps from honoring military units and veterans’ groups. The stamp campaign didn’t find out about the good news until USPS released the list of 2021 stamps last November.
“We had to use the Go For Broke persevering spirit to make the stamp happen,” Osako said.
Nisei perseverance is exemplified in the determination of the three women who led the campaign. Takahashi and King were incarcerated together in Amache, Colo. during World War II. Ohira was in Poston, Ariz.
“We wrote letters to the legislatures and senators and they were very, very supportive, which was really amazing. They wrote letters of support to the U.S. Postal Service,” Takahashi recalled.
Takahashi is the widow of Kazuo Takahashi,who served in the Military Intelligence Service in Japan. They met in 1949, when he was a student in pharmacy school at UC Berkeley. Kazuo was just 52 when he passed away, Fusa ran their San Pablo drugstore until retiring at age 70.
“He didn’t talk too much about what their military life was but he was in MIS. He did counterintelligence too,” she said.
After Friday’s ceremony in Little Tokyo, Takahashi and her family will return to Sacramento to participate in a dedication ceremony at the California Museum on Saturday at noon.
If there is a bittersweet sense in this moment of celebration, it is that so many have passed away since the start of the campaign, including so many veterans, as well as Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), who wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in support of the stamp, and Ohira, who died in 2018.
In his wallet, Osako carries a lucky origami frog, folded from a crisp dollar bill by Ohira. Ohira and her late husband Ted, a 100th/442nd RCT veteran, were longtime leaders of the Go For Broke National Education Center. Chiz recruited Osako for the campaign. Her brother Hideo Akiyama will represent her at the ceremony.
“When you know Chiz, her exuberance, her kindness, and how she was so gentle. Makes me feel good. I think of the spirit of her,” Osako said.
The National Japanese American Historical Society will host a virtual celebration in the Bay Area on Friday, June 4, from 6 to 7 p.m. There are also events planned in Honolulu, Portland, Houston, and other locations.
To livestream the Sacramento dedication, sign up online at tinyurl.com/florinjaclstamp
To watch the NJAHS virtual tribute, visit www.njahs.org/events/virtual-broadcast-bay-area-go-for-broke-forever-stamp-tribute/
Go to the Stamp Our Story website at niseistamp.org for updates and links on how to view the L.A. stamp ceremony, as well as events in other cities.