Veteran Kazuo Fred Yamaguchi grew up in an isolated community with little idea of his ethnic background. Unfortunately for him, he grew up just before World War II as a second generation Japanese-American, or Nisei, in New York City. Until basic training for the Army, he did not know that the United States government was confining ethnic Japanese in concentration camps on the west coast merely because they were suspected traitors. Once discovered, this fact would impact his entire military career and chances of survival through World War II.
Born in New York City into an Italian-American community, Yamaguchi faced no racial discrimination until he attempted to join the military. As a college student, he was enrolled in the Officer Candidate School (OCS) program with the intention of joining the air force upon completion. Unfortunately, due to his family history, he was discretely removed from this training program with little explanation. He was still bent on joining the military as an enlisted man, but was denied his first three choices, again due to his heritage, unbeknownst to him. When Yamaguchi was finally drafted, it was into a segregated company in the army. It was there, from affected Nisei, that he learned just what his country had done to people like him and what his true ethnic heritage meant in that time. This knowledge only led Yamaguchi to prove himself in the midst of the discrimination, just as the other Nisei had learned to do.
Fortunately, Yamaguchi’s heritage also gave him the opportunity to escape a cruel fate during the war. For reasons unknown, Yamaguchi and one other Nisei from his company were selected to join the Military Intelligence Service after basic training to serve their country. Ironically, the job designated for them was to learn Japanese in order to become translators and interpreters during the American invasion and occupation of Japan. Because of this selection, the two men were spared the fate of the rest of the Nisei to replace the expendable unit fighting in the South Pacific. These units faced some of the highest casualty rates of the war while still earning one of the best records of any unit in the war. If Yamaguchi had not been fortuitously selected for language school, he most likely would have died in combat.
Upon arriving in Japan, Yamaguchi discovered the true extent of the American treatment of the Japanese people. When he arrived in Yokohama, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, the soldier saw that most of the city was destroyed by the bombs. If anything remained, as in the case of Tokyo, it was the industrial area, which the Americans needed to maintain their post-war occupation of the nation. Anything deemed unnecessary to this cause was left in ruins by the bombs. Even the children were neglected by the United States military. When Yamaguchi and his colleagues tried to smuggle them food, they were stopped by military police with orders to stop their progress. These people received even less regard than the Japanese-American soldiers.
After the war, it took years for the soldiers to receive any recognition or regard. It was not until 2011 that Yamaguchi’s company and the other segregated Japanese company received the Congressional gold medal of honor. By the time this occurred, it was sixty-seven years later and only about four hundred veterans had survived to be recognized. Yamaguchi remained astounded at this situation. Ultimately, he wishes that the United States never repeats or forgets this situation.
Wokusch, Heather. “American-Japanese Veteran of WWII: Kazuo Fred Yamaguchi.” Online video. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.