By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Japanese American Veteran Kim Murimoto strolled through the wall of photos of fallen soldiers at the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) Memorial Hall and noticed a few familiar faces.
Murimoto was one of 11 Seattle-area World War II Nisei (second generation) veterans honored during a special “Salute to Service” ceremony at halftime of the Seattle Seahawks game on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 20. Murimoto was at the hall meeting with Seahawks staff who paid a visit prior to the big event.
He was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The wall at the NVC Memorial Hall is dedicated to the local soldiers who laid down their lives for their country. In a matter-of-fact fashion, Murimoto looked up at the wall and pointed out individuals he knew during the war. He recalled a person he met the day he died.
“We didn’t even know his name, brand new fella.” He vividly recalled seeing someone from his hometown on a day when the United States were on the attack, storming hills in Europe against the enemy. “I ran into him down in the valley and said hi to him. The next thing I heard, he got killed.”
Murimoto said one night, he himself was almost killed by enemy bombing.
“My foxhole buddy and I decided to build a foxhole into the hillside instead of the ground.” Two soldiers 10 feet from him were killed.
Members of the Seahawks staff visited the NVC Memorial Hall in early November to visit with the veterans and view the military museum at the hall. Those honored at the Monday Night Football game were present to meet with the staff and talk about their experiences.
The 100th Infantry Battalion was formed six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was comprised of mainly second generation Japanese Americans, known as Nisei, from Hawaii. They were the first Japanese American servicemen to see combat in World War II. Their combat in Italy helped change the minds of military and political leaders who had initially banned the enlistment of Japanese Americans. Several of the Japanese Americans honored were drafted while interned in camps with their families, and decided to fight for their country.
Toshio Tokunaga was one of those veterans that came from an internment camp.
“You know when I joined, there was only one avenue open for Japanese Americans,” he said. Tokunaga was sent to Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho when he was drafted. After basic training in the Army, he volunteered to be a paratrooper. Tokunaga had no fear of jumping out of airplanes. The seemingly safe aspects of flying in a plane were not so safe when the enemy shot at it.
“When they were shooting from the ground, you were happy to get out of the plane,” explained Tokunaga.
Tokunaga served all over Europe. He recalled landing in England, going to France, and going into Germany. His company participated in Operation Varsity in March 1945. It was a successful airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops and was the largest operation in history to happen in one day in one location. More than 16,000 paratroopers participated. It took place near the northern Rhine River with the goal to enter Northern Germany.
Frank Nishimura was originally from Seattle, but was ordered to move away from the West Coast. Instead of an internment camp, he was allowed to relocate to Spokane. He noted that he could visit the internment camps and could leave, but those living in the internment camps could not.
“It was kind of sad,” Nishimura said. He volunteered to be a replacement for troops in the Hawaiian unit fighting in Naples, Italy.
“Of course, at my age, 17, 18, I went [to fight].” He was wounded once when he was shot in the arm. Nishimura had a couple of years of German language studies in high school and was thus made an interpreter for his company.
“I could tell them to surrender,” Nishimura said of one of his duties for the company. He also served as the radio communications person and had to haul a huge radio on his back during battle. After serving in the military, Nishimura went to school on the GI Bill for welding, but the teacher told him he would never get a job because he was Japanese. He went on to work at the post office.
Mickey Hiroo worked in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) and the Counter Intelligence Corps.
“We were in Yokohama, [Japan] watching the Russian ships coming in and made sure that no American troops were found there. If they were there, I’d make sure they get out before the ships sailed.” Hiroo was at Minidoka before being drafted. The MIS served as translators and interrogators in all of the Allied Campaigns throughout the Pacific. Hiroo also participated in counterintelligence duties during the Korean War.
“We knew of the Nisei soldiers’ bravery during WWII,” said Mike Flood, Seattle Seahawks Vice President of Community Relations. “Once we met the veterans, we knew our fans would appreciate the opportunity to ‘salute’ these special men.”
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.