Saturday, November 6, 2010

Veterans Day: Better Late Than Never

By Pat Browning

Living in California’s Central Valley I got to know several Americans of Japanese descent who were herded into internment camps during World War II. Some of them simply moved on with their lives after the war and didn’t talk about it. Some of them were still bitter. Some of them had worked their way out of the camps by taking acceptable jobs far away. At least one of them had fought with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the “Go For Broke” regiment.

In 1994, as a reporter for The Hanford Sentinel I interviewed a Valley man who had been taken out of a camp in Arkansas because he could speak and read Japanese. Dick Kishiue was chosen as one of the top-secret “Yankee Samurai” who served as interpreters in the Nisei Military Intelligence Service with army and navy units from the Aleutians to the far islands of the South Pacific.

According to Kishiue, each one traveled at all times with two armed guards so that nervous GIs wouldn’t shoot them by mistake. When the translators were discharged at the end of the war they were told never to talk about their service, and for 50 years they didn’t. At a reunion in Hawaii their astonishing stories finally began to come out.

Kishiue was a farmer, as were so many of the Valley’s Japanese Americans. He was a modest, unassuming man but he was proud of his wartime service. At the time of our talk he still made regular trips to the Bay area for dinner with some of his wartime buddies. He was active in Japanese-American veterans affairs, both locally and statewide.

My feature story won an award in the 1995 California Newspaper Publishers Association contest. It was my fourth CNPA award. In a long lifetime I haven’t come up with much to brag about, but I’m perfectly happy to settle for bragging rights in the case of those awards.

In October, 65 years after World War II ended, President Barack Obama signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, known as the "Go for Broke" fighting units, as well as the 6,000 Japanese-Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Services during WWII. The medal will be on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.

The award comes too late for Dick Kishiue to enjoy it. I did a Google search and up popped his obituary. He died in May of this year. May he rest in peace.

The 1951 movie ‘Go For Broke” is in the public domain and you can watch it on You Tube. It’s in black and white and there are a couple of commercials so brief you won’t even have time to get a cup of coffee. There are some familiar movie cliches but when you think about it, war itself is the biggest cliché of all.

Although the movie can be seen on You Tube, that web site is shirty about links. My links come up with an error message. You can go to and search for “Go For Broke” to find it.

One URL that does work with no problem is the link to Classic Free Movie Downloads --

You’ll find three largely forgotten films from the 1950s at the site. “Go For Broke” is one. The other two are “The Big Combo” (1955) starring Cornel Wilde in a crime film, and “Vengeance Valley” (1951), a western starring Burt Lancaster and Robert Walker. Just pick your movie and click on the Download Movie link.

“Go For Broke” is a good movie, with music guaranteed to stir the blood, and it’s funny, too. A running joke is the commanding officer’s tour leaflets touting the glories of Italy and France as his men slog from place to place.

Which brings me to TALLGRASS, a novel by Sandra Dallas about the effect of a Japanese internment camp on both the internees and the residents of the nearby town.

The place: The fictional small town of Ellis in southeastern Colorado. The year: 1942. Not really a crime novel despite two killings, and not really a war novel despite the time frame, TALLGRASS is a story of relationships, personal and communal, with a bit of mass hysteria thrown in for good measure.

A snowstorm sets the scene for murder: “The snow, which had started before Christmas, continued all night, a hard, stinging snow brought by a wind that swept a thousand miles across the prairie.” The morning after, a young girl is found frozen in a haystack behind her father’s barn. She has been raped and murdered.

The narrator is Rennie Stroud, 13 years old when the story begins. She draws me into her life and times as easily as if we were sitting at a table in Lee Drug, gossiping while we drink Coca-Cola through our straws.

After the snowstorm murder, local residents are quick to blame someone from Tallgrass, a Japanese internment camp outside of town. Resentment of the “Japs” has run high since a large group arrived and was whisked off to barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences and observed by armed U.S. troops in high watchtowers. Never mind that the internees look and dress like ordinary Americans from California, they are regarded as enemies, possibly even spies.

In spite of its Norman Rockwell landscape, this is no namby-pamby novel. Townspeople find all kinds of ugly if mostly non-violent ways to make the internees unwelcome. One of the best scenes depicts a hostile gathering outside the Tallgrass camp gates that is quietly defused by Rennie’s mother. The solution to the first murder is a bit of a dull thud, but the solution to the second killing is both practical and disturbing. The epilogue moves the story forward to 1974, with a bittersweet ending.

The author recreates small-town America in the 1940s just as I remember my own upbringing. Reading it brought back a lot of memories.

Tomorrow: Introducing author Susan Santangelo, new blogger at Murderous Musings.
**“Go For Broke” photo from Classic Free Movie Downloads;
**Japanese American family awaiting evacuation in Hayward, CA 1942, photo by Dorothea Lange, Wikipedia.


Jan Morrill said...

Fascinating article, Pat. I am almost finished (at last) with my historical fiction about a Japanese-American family during World War II. I am also from Central California, and am of Japanese descent. My mother's family was in the internment camps, while her brother fought in the army and earned the bronze star. Thank you for helping us all to remember this history.

Anonymous said...

So good to hear from you. I look forward to reading your novel. The Japanese-American experience is one of the most fascinating of many fascinating stories to come out of World War II. Perhaps Californians are more aware of it than most people, but it's a piece of history too often overlooked.

The "Go For Broke" outfit was right in the midst of the fighting but they only seem to be remembered in connection with saving the "lost regiment" of Texans. Even the main character in the movie is white -- that old charmer Van Johnson.

Pat Browning