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One Man’s Medal: The story of George Nishimura

George Nishimura

George Nishimura

Clarksville, TN – George Kazuo Nishimura was an 18 year old teenager on December 7th, 1941.  He sat and watched the Japanese bombing of Wheeler Field during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He had no idea what was going on until he read it in the paper.

He wondered, “Why?”

He would volunteer to serve in the United States Army like so many other Japanese American men, in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

George Nishimura lives in Clarksville, and this week, he’ll be presented his bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony to honor the 90 year old veteran.

This is his story, and the story of the 442nd “Go For Broke” soldiers who were Japanese-American citizens wanting to serve their country, the United States of America.  George would serve with the Military Intelligence Service as a language officer.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army was an exclusive unit of American soldiers of Japanese descent.  They were volunteers who wanted to serve in the United States Army, even though their families were subject to internment.  The 442nd fought primarily in Europe during the war and served with uncommon distinction in Italy, Southern France, Australia and Germany.

Considered to be one of the most decorated infantry regiments in the history of the Army, they’ve been awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations and boast twenty-one Medal of Honor recipients.

George Nishimura was born to Japanese parents from Kumamoto Prefecture, Mutaguchi Japan.  His father came to Hawaii in 1894 as a sugarcane worker.  His mother joined him in 1907.  Native Japanese would leave their homeland for Hawaii to make a better life for themselves.  While his parents knew each other during their youth, it wasn’t until Mr. Otokichi exchanged pictures with his bride that they decided they would marry.

The women were known as “picture brides.”

George was the 6th of eight children growing up in Hawaii.  His father was a robust man who worked the cane fields.  Later, his father would work at the plantation as a caretaker of the water supply that was used to irrigate the fields, and was manager of the forest.  He grew up living near the foothills of the Koolau range in Punaluu.

FDR declared war on Japan.  Japanese-Americans were in a predicament.   Most of them were angry at what happened at Pearl Harbor, and were eager to show their loyalty to the United States by joining the Armed Forces.  Thousands flocked to the opportunity to serve their country.

That’s the beginning of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

George Nishimura in Australia

George Nishimura in Australia

Most Japanese-Americans who fought in World War II were known as, “Nisei,” or Japanese-Americans born in the United States.  Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, these men were categorized as enemy aliens and therefore not subject to the draft.

In 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order #9066, authorizing military authorities to “prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.”

Although the order did not refer specifically to people of Japanese ancestry, it set the stage for the internment of people of Japanese descent.

In Hawaii, martial law, complete with curfews and blackouts was imposed.  A quarter of the population in Hawaii was Japanese, so internment was not practical.  If the military had interned the Japanese-Americans the economy would not have survived.

George’s family would live free of the internment other Japanese-Americans faced on the mainland.  While George’s family never discussed the attack, George was shocked at what Japan had done.  He said, “I didn’t feel good that Japan would resort to a sneak attack, and bomb Pearl Harbor.  I was shocked.”

Tomorrow, George is shipped to Camp Shelby Mississippi for training, and the country is at war.

About Hank Bonecutter




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