By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Washington, D.C. (November 4, 2010) – Grant Ichikawa started out life as a fruit farmer who wanted to be an accountant.
Instead the military and civilian intelligence officer would spend much of his life as a witness to the most memorable, and horrible moments in history – from interrogating Japanese soldiers in WWII, to examining the devastation of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan following the atomic bombs, and as one of the final Americans to leave Saigon in 1975.
Ichikawa was present at the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation event last week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of its Memorial to Patriotism During World War. It is part of a year-long tribute to Japanese Americans who served in the MIS during World War II and in Occupied Japan.
Ichikawa accepted the Award for Patriotism on behalf of MIS veterans. During World War II, he worked directly with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service in Australia and the Philippines.
“Patriotism is especially meaningful to MIS veterans who fought against Japan, when they were in the camps and treated like enemy aliens,” he added. “It takes a special breed of people I think and I am one of them. So I feel very, very proud that they are giving us this award.”
The Foundation also honored retired US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Japanese American veterans of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and National Park Service. The event, “Living History. Our Story. Your Rights. Breaking the Code,” recognized both the MIS interpreters and interrogators, and Justice Stevens as a US Navy cryptologist for their important roles in breaking and interpreting the codes of the Empire of Japan during WWII.
Justice Stevens was honored for his code breaking work but also with the Award for Constitutional Rights for his historic judicial work to discrimination and injustice – including more than three decades of service on the US Supreme Court.
The Chairman’s Award was presented to the National Park Service for its stewardship and partnership with the Foundation for the care and promotion of the Memorial. US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar accepted the Award on behalf of the National Park Service.
“Honoring Justice John Paul Stevens, our hero Grant Ichikawa, and the National Park Service combines to tell a story larger than the sum of their parts. It is a privilege for the Foundation to help tell that story,” stated Dr. Craig D. Uchida, NJAMF Chairman.
The honor was especially meaningful to Ichikawa who said he represented all of the veterans who chose to put aside their feelings about being interned and proved their loyalty to their country. He recalled that the Army wanted to recruit around 2,500 soldiers, but only around 1,500 volunteered.
“The camps were divided between the people that wanted to fight and joined the Army to prove their loyalty,” said Ichikawa. “The other group said ‘first, let our families out of the camps and then we will volunteer. In the end the group that volunteered carried the day.”
Ichikawa was born near Fairfield, Calif., the son of a fruit farmer in the Suisun Valley. He graduated from the University of California with a degree in accounting but said he couldn’t find work and was still fruit farming with his father when they were “all rounded up and evacuated to the internment camp” in Gila River, Arizona.
“You get to think we were put in there because the U.S. Government and the U.S. Army could not trust us, and felt that we were probably loyal to Japan,” he said. “I don’t know why, but that is the way they felt and they expressed that the reason why we were rounded up was for security.”
Not being trusted as patriotic Americans made Ichikawa think, “just how do you prove that you are loyal?” The obvious way during the war he said was to fight for this country – but that was impossible in 1942 because Japanese Americans were barred from service with a 4-C classification of “enemy alien.”
“We were sitting here in the camp and wondering what the heck happened?” he added. “And, then all of a sudden there was this opportunity – as if an angel sent us this opportunity – as a recruiting team from Camp Savage Military Intelligence School. They visited all 10 camps and wanted people with enough Japanese background so they can be trained as interrogators or translators or linguists.”
Ichikawa said this was the only opportunity he expected and when he passed the linguists school entrance exam, he asked for his parents blessing. They gave it, provided “didn’t bring shame to the family.”
Around 25 volunteers from Gila River joined him at Camp Savage. He said the mood was the kind of patriotism that most people would have found hard to believe at the time – from 150 Japanese American soldiers collectively from all of the camps.
This second class at Camp Savage started in September 1943. The first class started the previous June, and Ichikawa said they had to bring the old camp back to life that had been out of use since the 1930s – while also studying. The second class was housed in the new barracks.
“We had it easy compared to the first class,” he said.
Now in school the volunteers got a waiver for their 4C status and they trained eagerly, he said. After being ostracized on the west coast, he said the Twin Cities was much different.
“We were welcome there,” he said. “We were invited to their homes in Minneapolis and that was certainly a tremendous change in our experience with the attitude of the population.
“We really enjoyed our stay over there,” he added. “To this day, we really thank the people of the Twin Cities for welcoming us. Our USO was just packed with young ladies from the Twin Cities and we were welcomed and had a good stay over there.”
Upon graduation, Ichikawa was assigned to Australia to “G2” which was General Douglas MaCarthur’s Headquarters to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service. His camp was located on the outskirts of Brisbane and far away from MaCarthur’s camp.
Ichikawa said it was the rear echelon and he was interrogating prisoners for strategic information to help the allies establish bombing targets in Japan.
“We did our work, but we didn’t really appreciated the importance of what we did,” he said.
Ichikawa said Imperial Japan provided the best advantage for interrogation. He said troops were told that to become a prisoner would bring shame on their country and to their families. They would not be welcome back to their country.
“Surrender is not in the Japanese military terminology and they would rather commit suicide than surrender,” he said. “When they had a prisoner they were often severely wounded but survived.”
Ichikawa said they treated the prisoners, “very, very well – the best we could.”
The emphasis was that since they were now unwelcome in their own country, they cannot go back there and so you might as well tell us everything you know.
“Most of them would say, ‘what do you want to know? They were very, very cooperative. We treated them very, very well.”
From here Ichikawa went on to the Philippines where in August 1944 he was among 50 Nisei linguists that received commissions to Lieutenant in Manila. He said the commissions would have come after graduating from Camp Savage but again the Japanese ethnicity blocked them, while the Caucasian students that were not as skilled as in Japanese received a commission right out of school.
“That was really discriminatory, but we didn’t mind because we knew that we were still not fully trusted and we had to prove ourselves as loyal Americans,” he said. “So, close to the end of the war we had proved our loyalty and so probably in preparation for a major invasion of Japan that was supposed to come off on November 1, 1945, I think they decided to commission a bunch of us.”
It was a general consensus that with the invasion of Okinawa that the mainland would follow soon after. Then all of a sudden Japan surrendered.
As a part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey office in October of 1945, Ichikawa went to Hiroshima to assist with the post-Atomic bomb assessment of the area. The atomic bombs that were dropped on the cities were unprecedented and American scientists and mathematicians were sent in to assess how much power the bomb had with certain types of structures at distances around the cities.
Ichikawa was sent in to locate blueprints in any buildings that were destroyed to let scientists know more about the building materials.
Hiroshima was built on flat land and so he found no remaining structures.
“In Hiroshima, I couldn’t find a single one, because all of the offices were destroyed,” he said. “In Nagasaki, I was able to find a couple of good blueprints.”
He was also there as a linguist for allied officers when they wanted to talk to a Japanese. Altogether, Ichikawa spent a couple of months in the fall of 1945 looking around the two cities.
“It was a horrible feeling to especially look at Hiroshima, of what just one bomb could do; it just obliterated the whole city,” he added. “It bothered me a lot to have used that bomb, but then you realize that without that bomb, Japan would not have surrendered. The military faction was very strong and would have fought to the end. Without the bomb I think it would have been a very different Japan today, I think.”
When Ichikawa was discharged in 1947, but he had already married one of the first 13 Japanese American civilian women to work in occupied Japan as mail censors. She was a civilian and had the simulated rank of lieutenant. She wore an officer’s uniform to not be mistaken for a local civilian Japanese woman.
“They helped set up the censorship office in the central post office and hired local Japanese and reviewed what they did. They looked at what the Japanese were writing to each other,” he said. “MaCarthur’s plan of occupied Japan was very successful. Today, Japan is a very strong ally to us.”
Little did Ichikawa know that by signing up in the inactive reserve he would be called back to service during the Korean War. He said they were losing a lot of company grade officers and for some reason he was listed as infantry when he had been an intelligence officer.
He trained with 81 other recalled and “disgruntled” officers before he learned in an interview that the Army was again interested in his interrogation experience. He had the choice of going to Korea or to Hokaido to continue his intelligence work.
“It was a hard decision for me to make because I had trained with these 81 officers and I felt that I should go with them,” he said. “But on the other hand, I am not an infantry officer, I am an intelligence officer. If I go to Korea they would probably give me command of enlisted people and my lack of infantry experience would jeopardize their lives.”
He chose Hokkaido and served one tour. He was ready to return home but was then offered a civil service job with another intelligence group and said it led to a very interesting string of occupations including Indonesia and Vietnam.
“I was among the last to leave Vietnam on the helicopter from the American Embassy,” he said. “We left at nighttime on the last day that South Vietnam fell on April 30, 1975.
Ichikawa said he was emotionally burned out because of the American evacuation. He didn’t agree that America should have gone in to this conflict in the first place, but felt that once you are in a fighting war that it needs to go on until its won.
“You don’t give up, and in Vietnam that is what we did, we gave up,” he said.
“We left so many good people we couldn’t take with us,” he added. “They got captured and the North Vietnamese took them and they spent the next 10 to 15 years in reeducation prison and things like that.”
Ichikawa said he was so disgusted that he retired upon his return to the states. He turned his energies to helping the Vietnamese refugees resettle in the United States. He bought a van and collected furniture for new families to help them start a new life in California.
He even received a letter from the White House thanking him for his efforts.
“Then later on I got involved with the Japanese American Veterans Association and I am still very much involved with them right now so that keeps me busy,” he added.
Looking back Ichikawa said the Japanese Americans paid a terrific price for their service in the MIS, and in the 100th and 442nd. The names of the war dead are etched in marble at JAVM Memorial in Washington DC, with 800 names that he said made the Nisei legacy possible and that their memories will now live forever.
“Americans should study what we did because even right after the war, we returned to west coast and the locals were still against us and would shoot our barns and try to chase us away again,” he said. “That all changed probably because of the service we gave in the Pacific and European Theater.”
Ichikawa does draw a parallel with the Nisei experience and what the Arab Americans are experiencing in the present day. It is a testament to history that they are not interned but such extreme actions were considered. He said military service is one way to prove loyalty.
It has been 22 years since the Civil Liberties Act became law on August 10, 1988, providing redress to Japanese Americans interned by the US Government during the Second World War. The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation also presents an accurate historical narrative as a reminder that the nation must be on guard not to allow anything like this to happen to any minority community again. www.njamf.com