Harry Koba, Italy

Harry Koba, Italy

Sixty–six men and two women from Bainbridge Island's Nikkei community served in the armed services during WWII, joining more than 33,000 nationwide. Six Island Nisei were already serving in the Army when the war began. Enlistment of Nikkei was severely curtailed at that time, and all Nikkei were reclassified IV–F (unfit for the military) or IV–C (enemy alien) by September 1942. Not until 1944 were these citizens allowed to enlist again; drafting of Nikkei began again at that time as well. In addition to the many stateside positions filled by Nikkei, Japanese Americans served heroically in both theaters.

The highly decorated 442nd Infantry Battalion included sixteen men from Bainbridge Island. The all–Nisei unit saw brutal fighting in Italy and France and suffered the highest combat casualty rate of any American unit. Mo Nakata, Art Koura, and William Okazaki were the first Islanders seriously injured with the 442nd. In the Pacific, the Military Intelligence Service, also including sixteen Island men, was one of the best kept secrets of the war. Praised by commanders from MacArthur on down, they acted as interpreters and interrogated captured prisoners of war. Their translating skills allowed commanders to anticipate enemy action.

General MacArthur: "Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement." Major General Merrill who ordered his men to protect with their lives the Nisei of the MIS: "I couldn't have gotten along without them." Major General Willoughby: "The Nisei shortened the Pacific war by two years and saved possibly a million American lives."

Slideshow

A collection of photos of Bainbridge Island Nisei in the military

In her book, In Defense of Our Neighbors, Mary Woodward illustrates the dichotomy that Nisei Soldiers faced as they fought for their country while their families were imprisoned without due process or guilt back home:

Fifteen months before the army allowed the Nikkei to return to the West Coast, Mo "Pork Chops" Nakata and Art Koura came home for a visit. A Review editorial explained, "Art and 'Pork Chops,' as 'American' a pair as ever trod the corridors of Bainbridge High School, were permitted to visit because they wear the uniforms of the United States Army. Uncle Sam, who soon may ask them to die for him, couldn't very well tell them they couldn't come home on furlough." Although soldiers visited the Island, the rest of the Nikkei remained incarcerated in the camps until nearly the end of the war.

The following are images of Bainbridge Island Nisei, in alphabetical order, who served in the military, mostly in the World War Two era, but some in more recent years.

 

  • Henry Egashira - Circa 1960s.

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