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"Good Things Grow From Horse Manure": A Speech to the Seattle Rotary Club by Sam Mitsui
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Sam Mitsui gave this speech to the Rotary Club of Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theatre on November 9, 2005. Mitsui is a member of the Nisei Veterans Committee of Seattle, Washington.
Good Things Grow From Horse Manure
My name is Sam Mitsui and I am a Nisei, a second generation Japanese American, and my parents were called Issei, the first generation of immigrants from Japan.
I am here today to tell you about being placed in an American concentration camp after Pearl Harbor, and to honor the Nisei that served in the segregated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), during World War II and to honor my best friend, Pfc. Tom Haji of the 442nd.
I was in basic training as a replacement for the 442nd when a letter that I wrote to Tom, was returned with the words, “KIA [Killed in Action], Mt. Belvedere, Italy, April 9, 1945." After receiving this sad news, I made a pledge that I would never forget the sacrifice that Tom and the men of the 442nd made for us and would do all that I could to continue their legacy of Courage, Sacrifice and Loyalty. I’m sure that many of you have had this same experience of losing someone close to you in the service of our country. I hoped that someday, I would be able to visit the battlefield where Tom was killed in Italy.
I was born 79 yrs. ago, in the little town of Skykomish, WA, where Tom and I grew up and attended Skykomish High School.
I remember pledging allegiance to the flag every morning, and I always thought that I was an American, that is, until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
The FBI came and took our short wave radio and my dad’s old pistol. A curfew was placed on us, so we could not leave our home from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. People whom we thought were our friends would not speak to us. Our neighbor asked me if I was going back to Japan.
Not one teacher nor our principal supported us. We were convicted by their silence. The only one that spoke up for us was our basketball coach, who told the students that we were Americans, just like everyone else.
Stores had signs, “No Japs Allowed!” and newspapers were filled with articles of hate and racism, like, “Put the Japs in Detention Camps!” Cartoons portrayed us as Slant Eyed, Buck Toothed, Yellow Japs!" One day, I was walking down Main Street, when two Marines grabbed me by the collar and said, “OK Jap, show me the yellow stripe running down your back!”
Gen. DeWitt, Commander of the Western Defense Command, said, “A Jap is a Jap, citizen or not, they will never change and cannot be trusted!” This was very disturbing to me. This was the only country that I knew and cared about, so why was everyone treating us like the enemy?
When we were kids, we used to say, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Because of incidents like these, I’ve changed my mind. Being called a “Jap” is like calling a black person a “Nigger.” Words do harm you and they have left scars that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Because of war hysteria, extreme racism and attacks on us, very few people stood up for us. Finally, on February 19, 1942, even our President, Franklin D. Roosevelt was against us by signing Executive Order 9066, which ordered the Military to evacuate 120,000 Nisei and Issei from the W. Defense Command. This was done without due process, and, even though no one was ever convicted of espionage, subversive activity or treason.
We were only allowed one suitcase per person, then the State Patrol came to take us to Everett to board a train to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp in Northern California. As we left Skykomish, the Germans and Italians that worked with my Father on the Great Northern Railroad, were waving goodbye to us. What I never really understood was, why was I, an American Citizen, waving goodbye to German and Italian enemy aliens?
Now, I know that it was because they were White and we looked like the enemy. Who would think of putting Gen. Eisenhower into a concentration camp because he was of German ancestry or Mayor La Guardia of New York City, because he was of Italian ancestry?
We were placed in 10 concentration camps, located in the most desolate, hot and cold areas of our country. Our family of six were sent to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp in northern California and housed in one room of a barrack, built with shiplap siding, a layer of tar paper, with no insulation and a lot of cracks, no running water or a bathroom. Not much protection from the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. If we had to go to the bathroom, shower or do laundry, we would have to bundle up and walk thru dirt and mud, to a central bathroom.
Some families slept in racetrack horse stalls, while the main camps were being built. I heard a story of a son, who told his father that these stalls had not been cleaned and it stunk of horse manure. The Father replied, “REMEMBER, SON, A LOT OF GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE.” Many years later, we will see how true this statement was.
After Pearl Harbor, we were classified 4C, enemy aliens, by the Selective Service, even though we were American Citizens, not being able to vote or serve our country in time of war.
In order to prove their loyalty, the Nisei requested to serve in the U.S. Army, even though they were still imprisoned in these concentration camps, surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, with the machine guns pointed inward. If anyone tried to escape, they were ordered to shoot.
In 1943, the U.S. War Dept. finally agreed to form the segregated Nisei 442nd RCT. Four thousand five hundred Nisei from Hawaii and the mainland concentration camps, volunteered to prove their loyalty. In order to test their loyalty, they fought the Germans from North Africa, to Italy, France, and Germany. They emerged from the ashes of prejudice, suspicion and fear, to an almost unparalleled position of honor and bravery.
On October 27, 1944, the 442nd RCT were ordered to rescue 265 Texans of the “Lost Bn,” 36th Div., who were surrounded by the Germans. They rescued the “Lost Bn” with a staggering loss of 200 killed and 600 men wounded. The “Rescue of the Lost Bn” has been designated by the Pentagon as one of the 10 most famous battles in the history of the U.S. military.
The 442nd, received 18,143 individual decorations, including 21 Congressional Medals of Honor and over 9,000 Purple Hearts. They became the most decorated unit, for its size and length of service, in the history of the U.S. military.
Also, 6,000 Niseis served in the secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS) in the Pacific Theater during WW II. They participated in every major invasion landing of the Pacific Islands, such as Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Philippines, and Okinawa. They are credited with shortening the Pacific War by two years and saving one million American lives by breaking enemy codes, translating Japanese documents, and interrogating prisoners.
Forty-six years later, we began to see GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE:
- On August 10, 1988, Pres. Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided redress and a letter of apology from the U.S. Government, for the injustice of putting 120,000 Issei and Nisei into these concentration camps. It takes a great nation to admit that they were wrong and I don’t know of any other country in the world that would have done this.
In June 2000, Pres. Clinton, belatedly, presented CMOH Medals to 19 Nisei of the 442nd RCT because a Military Review Board determined that due to racism in the military during World War II, they were not awarded the MOH, even though they deserved it.
- On November 9, 2000, A National Japanese American Monument to Patriotism was dedicated in Washington D.C., in honor of the 800 Niseis that were KIA and to 33,000 Niseis that served in the Military during World War II and to 120,000 Issei and Nisei, who, in spite of the injustices committed, maintained their loyalty to the U.S. With this Monument Dedication, we have been able to carve a small niche in the history of our great nation.
- On March 26, 2001, the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Seattle was named in honor of Pfc. William Nakamura, a belated MOH recipient from Seattle.
- In February 2002, the new Medical/Dental Center at Ft. Lewis was named in honor of T/5 James Okubo, another one of the belated MOH recipients from Bellingham.
- In September 2002, my wife and I were able to take a tour of Italy on our 50th Anniversary. We were finally able to walk in the area of Mt. Belvedere, where Pfc. Tom Haji was killed and to pay our respects and say a silent prayer of thanks, for allowing us to enjoy our lives and families today, because of the sacrifices of Tom and the Men of the 100th Bn/442nd RCT and the MIS. Walking on this hallowed ground has given me a renewed dedication to continue the legacy of these men that fought and died here, so that future generations will know what sacrifices they made for us, so that we could hold our heads up high as Americans.
On December 7, 2003, the above events were brought to a fitting closure, when the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association of Seattle invited our Nisei Veterans Committee to attend their Memorial Service to Honor the Dead and Living Survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.
I was hesitant to attend, not knowing what the reception would be, but, to my amazement, we were greeted with open arms and they honored us, as special guests, during the service, with applause. I thought, Wow!! If the Pearl Harbor Survivors were for us, who could be against us! We had finally come full circle, from December 7, 1941 to December 7, 2003.
THE FATHER THAT TOLD HIS SON THAT GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE WAS RIGHT ON!
We are all Human Beings, who want to Love and be Loved and who have the same concerns, fears, and hopes as everyone else. What happened to us is now history and justice has been served, so, what I would like to ask each one of you, is to never disrespect a person, because of the color of his skin, or what religion he believes in or what race he belongs to or what his sexual orientation is, because, if we do, we disrespect God and our Country and what they stand for.
We must remain united so that what happened to us will not happen to any other group. Especially to the Muslim Americans after September 11.
After 62 years, I can finally say that I am proud to be an American and now I know how Rev. Martin Luther King felt, when he said, “FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, I’M FREE AT LAST!”
Mahalo and Arrivederci
Note: Definition in Webster’s Dictionary: “Concentration Camp: A camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined.”
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Sam Mitsui and Colleen Armstrong, November 9, 2005
Courtesy Seattle Rotary Club
Sam Mitsui, Tokyo, 1945
Courtesy Sam Mitsui