The December to Remember: WWII veteran receives nation’s top civilian honor

Credit: Napa Valley Register

As I mentioned in the post published on December 1st, I will be posting articles that are related to WWII and or Pearl Harbor that are of current events. Today’s news article is one that I found on napavalleyregister.comwhich is a local news paper from Napa, California. I actually watched a segment on my local news TV channel about this gentleman. His story is one of intrigue and courage. But first here is a little background on how the Japanese American Citizens were treated shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Being a Japanese American shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was not easy. They were treated as possible threats to National Security. Many Japanese Americans were treated unfairly as the non-Asian citizens did not trust anyone resembling Japanese descent. The country went into a sort of campaign to motivate the young and eager willing male public 16-24 years of age to join in to fight the Japanese to obtain Justice against the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some citizens took the distrust too far by hanging racist signs and writing horrible messages on or near the Japanese American houses and businesses such as these:

Racist Sign hung in San Francisco Advertising the Sutro Baths

A Japanese family returns home to find their garage vandalized with graffiti and broken windows in Seattle, on May 10, 1945. AP Photo

We had Japanese Internment camps right here in California. Japanese-American internment was the relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese who lived along the Pacific coast of the United States to camps called “War Relocation Camps,” in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, while in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the territory’s population, 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62% were American citizens.

Japanese Internment Camp in California

So now you may know why this article is so significant. Now without further adieu here is the News article.

credit:Napa Valley Register

Takuma Tanada, a 92-year-old resident of west Napa, makes no claims for heroic service in World War II in the fight against Japan. “Others are the real heroes,” he said.

While vast numbers of American soldiers, sailors and pilot lost their lives or endured miserable conditions in the Pacific, Tanada was on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff as an agricultural advisor in the Military Intelligence Service.

Yet his contribution was not without significance. When the war ended and American forces ran Japan, Tanada said he was in charge of the importation and manufacture of fertilizer. This humanitarian effort, combined with American food aid, prevented millions of Japanese from starving to death after the war, he said.

Credit: Napa Valley Register

Three weeks ago, Tanada stood before the top leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, D.C. to accept the Congressional Gold Medal for his war service.

The medal — one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States — went to Tanada and 99 other WWII veterans not only for their individual actions during the war, but to recognize the patriotism of Japanese Americans at a time of rabid prejudice at home.

The Congressional Gold Medal is part of America’s ongoing effort to atone for injustices done to Japanese Americans during WWII, said Tanada, who professes to holding no personal bitterness.

At the time of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Tanada, the son of Japanese who immigrated to Hawaii two decades earlier, was a biology student at the University of Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor triggered a wave of public hostility against Japanese Americans whose loyalty to America was questioned, Tanada said. “We were considered spies, a Fifth Column and so forth,” he said in an interview.

On the West Coast, the U.S. government rounded up more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including entire families, after Pearl Harbor and moved them to guarded camps.

In Hawaii, Japanese Americans, who constituted a much higher percentage of the population, were not sent to internment camps. “The authorities in Hawaii recognized our loyalty,” Tanada said.

Tanada and his brother both volunteered for the Army. His brother, Shigeo Tanada, was accepted and fought against Germany in an all-Japanese American unit that was highly decorated after the war.

Tanada said he was first rejected by the military, then drafted later. Because of his ethnicity and bilingual capabilities, he was assigned to the Military Intelligence Service where 5,000 Japanese Americans did top-secret work translating Japanese communications. He reached the rank of technical sergeant.

Credit: Napa Valley Register

Holding a master’s in biology, Tanada was assigned to MacArthur’s staff to work on agriculture and food issues.

Presiding over the award ceremony in the Capitol on Nov. 2 were Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader; Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader; House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

“He was all smiles. I think this energized him,” said Juliet Tanada, his daughter who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

Given all that happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, “this is a kind of closure,” she said.

Tanada’s son-in-law, David Vesely, a retired Army colonel, said the Congressional medal should help to heal old wounds. “I hope when he goes to his grave,” he said of his father-in-law, “he feels there is atonement for what the government did.”

While pleased with the Congressional Gold Medal, Tanada downplays his service. “I never experienced hardship, mentally or physically. It was an easy job for me,” he said.

Japan’s decision to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor was a “very stupid” move, Tanada said. Japan is lucky it lost the war, he said.

“It turned out better for them,” he said. Under American leadership and with American aid, Japan was able to create a more civil society and lay the groundwork for future economic prosperity, he said.

Tanada went on to have a distinguished career as a plant researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was “rumored” to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize, but nothing came of it, he said.

Anyone who searches the Internet for “Tanada effect” will find  entries about an electrical plant phenomenon named for Tanada, the discoverer.

Tanada and his wife moved to Napa 28 years ago to retire near their daughter, Juliet Tanada, who was then teaching optometry at Berkeley.

Widowed in 1986, he tends a one-acre garden in Browns Valley where he grows fruits and vegetables and wages war against marauding deer.

“I like the climate,” he said. “Napa has a small-town atmosphere, which appeals to me. I don’t like big cities. It was the perfect place for me to settle.”

The human rights group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) hosts a rally at Ground Zero to protest the construction of a mosque at the site of the Islamic terror attack that brought down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

America is more tolerant of minorities today than it was in the 1940s, Tanada said. While there was some backlash against American Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, it was nothing like what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, he said.

“I think we are much more open-minded than before,” he said.

You can visit the website by visiting: WWII Veteran Receives Nation’s top civilian Honor

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you know someone of Japanese ethnicity that lived in the United States during WWII, ask them about what it was like to live in a Nation that at first had promise of a better life but then as soon as Pearl Harbor was attacked became a Nation of stripping civil rights from anyone who was Japanese. Even though you were born in the US, you were still Japanese and considered a threat. Times have thankfully changed.

Thanks for reading,

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Published in: on December 6, 2011 at 2:15 AM  Comments (1)  
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