Nisei Veterans Hall holds special place for loyalty
When Paul Hosoda returned from fighting for his country in World War II, in one of the most-decorated brigades of the Army, he moved to...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday,
Where: NVC Memorial Hall located at 1212 S. King St., Seattle
When Paul Hosoda returned from fighting for his country in World War II, in one of the most-decorated brigades of the Army, he moved to Idaho where he was welcomed into the Veterans of Foreign Wars legion.
But when he moved to Seattle, the organization shunned him because he was Japanese-American.
From that grew the idea of a Nisei Veterans Hall, a building in the Chinatown International District that provided a center for the returning Nisei soldiers of World War II.
Tomorrow the hall will reopen after a $2.5 million renovation. Carol Narasaki and her 13-year-old daughter, Julia Hatten, will be there to greet Gov. Christine Gregoire. Narasaki said her father, Richard Narasaki, who died in 2000, was a member of the decorated 442nd Brigade, comprising mostly Japanese-American soldiers.
She said her father volunteered for the Army despite the fact the U.S. government was sending West Coast Japanese Americans to internment camps. The Army was the only branch of service that would take the Japanese soldiers.
"He really loved his country," Narasaki said. "He knew [internment] was a big mistake and the U.S. was doing something unconstitutional, but he still wanted to fight for it."
Tosh Okamoto, who worked for the Seattle Fire Department, said the Nisei, second-generation Japanese-Americans like himself, were classified as enemy aliens.
"The only way to prove we weren't was to go into the service," he said. "This is our country ... so why not fight for our country? The country did us wrong, but that doesn't mean we don't fight for it."
Okamoto and several other World War II soldiers gathered Thursday at the Nisei Veterans Hall, watching the finishing touches being put on the facility.
The building is a place for veterans and their families to socialize. It offers dance classes and hosts parties. The organization also sends veterans to local schools to talk about the local Japanese influence in World War II.
An estimated 220 Nisei veterans live in the Seattle area, most in their 80s. They, with their families, number about 900.
The Nisei combat team, formed in Hawaii in 1942 and 1943, was made up of Japanese Americans from the U.S. mainland and volunteers from Hawaii.
According to published reports, it became the most-decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size, with 9,500 Purple Hearts.
Mas Fukuhara was interned at the Minidoka camp in Idaho when the Army drafted him in 1943. Fukuhara, who became a biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Bill Nishimura, who became regional director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Reagan administration, worked along with others in military intelligence as interpreters, translators and interrogators.
"There was a dire need for linguists, even when we were classified as aliens," Fukuhara said. Many of the Nisei soldiers spoke Japanese in their homes, so they were fluent in the language.
"Even before the war broke out, the Army knew it would need linguists, so they sought out every Japanese who had spent time in Japan," said Hosoda, another member of the 442nd. "They formed the regiment to prove we were good citizens and loyal. Every medal we won we proved our loyalty and willingness to give our lives for our country. We went into [the war] to prove we should be treated like citizens."
The Nisei veterans bought the building that would become their veterans hall in 1951 for $1,000. "Since we couldn't join the VFW or the American Legion, why not make our own club?" Nishimura said.
The money for the remodeling, much of which was done by volunteers, came from private and government funds.
In 2001, concern about the declining number of Nisei veterans raised questions about whether the hall should be maintained. But members decided not only to maintain it, but to raise funds to remodel it.
"The $2.5 million allowed the legacy of the Nisei veterans to move forward," said David Fukuhara, son of veteran Mas Fukuhara. "When I would come to Christmas parties, I'd see these guys getting older, but the one thing that brought everyone together is the legacy of Nisei veterans who won freedom for our generation."
For those arranging Saturday's 1 p.m. celebration, there is a little extra satisfaction: In the audience will be representatives of one VFW post and six American Legion posts.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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