Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The First Veteran I Knew

My father enlisted in the Army as soon as he could during World War II. He had just turned 16 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which you could see from his front porch. By the time he turned 18, the U.S. Congress had decided that it was permissible for Americans of Japanese ancestry to serve in its Army, albeit in segregated units.

Dad served in the Signal Corps, attending Japanese language school -- ironic because he was already fluent -- and breaking low-level naval codes before he was commissioned and sent to Japan with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after the surrender. It must have made quite an impression on him. I know that he was “sent home sick,” and when I was 18, he intimated to me that he’d had a breakdown and was under psychiatric care when he was “about [my] age," although he subsequently denied it.

My grandfather, who was kind of a big wheel in the Honolulu Japanese community, was interned immediately after Pearl Harbor. My father spent his whole time in the Army writing letters to the War Department protesting this injustice. My uncle told me that after Japan surrendered, my grandfather continued denying that they’d lost the war until my father sent photographs he’d taken of the destruction in Nagasaki and Tokyo.

While I was serving in the Air Force, my father and I had a running argument regarding whether or not the U.S. would have used the atomic bomb on Germany. He was ambivalent about his military service. He always said that America is a racist country, but when he was confronted with anti-Japanese sentiment from ignorant-ass New Yorkers when it started looking like Japan was going to surpass the U.S. economically in the ‘80s, he talked about writing to Washington to get his war medals so he could use them to prove that he was an American.

He had a few funny stories. One of them had to do with the test he had to take at the end of Officer Candidate School. One of the questions was, "How is the M-2 carbine cleaned?" Being a former engineering student, he wrote a very lengthy description of the process to be followed in breaking down, cleaning, and reassembling the weapon. Twenty years later, he still shook his head when he recalled the correct answer: "With care."


Blogger Treehouse-Dweller said...

Wow. What a great story. I wish I had a better comment, but thanks for sharing it.

The first vet I knew was my dad's dad. During WWII he was co-pilot of a plane that got shot down over northern France. He and his radio operator were the only survivors.

With the help of the French resistance, he made his way to Paris, posing as a deaf-mute Frenchman. It always fascinated me to hear him tell about getting his hair cut at a barbershop near the Champs-Elysees. A man in the chair next to him had a German Shepherd sitting at his feet. When the man's haircut was finished, and his smock removed, my granddad was shocked to discover he was an SS colonel!

7:55 AM  

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