ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — For 96-year-old Westminster resident and WWII veteran Don Miyada, some photos are more than pictures. They are stories. He takes a look at them every once in a while.
"It feels like it was a long time ago," Miyada said.
Miyada is the last surviving member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Kazuo Masuda Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3670 in Garden Grove. His black-and-white photos tell the lesser-known history of the 442nd RTC, a team comprised of Japanese Americans who served their country during WWII.
Their motto was "Go For Broke," and despite their relatives and friends being in internment camps during the war, they fought for their country. Their mission was to breach the German Gothic Line, and they never second-guessed their commitment to serve.
"We were never conflicted. We knew we had a job to do, and that was foremost in our minds," Miyada said.
But almost 80 years later, telling the story of the 442nd and Americans of Japanese heritage who enlisted in the face of injustice has been an uphill battle.
Some 33,000 Americans of Japanese heritage served during World War II, from the 100th Battalion to the Military Intelligence Service, or MIS. Mostly from Hawaii, the 100th Battalion was the original group of "Nisei" (second-generation Japanese Americans) soldiers sent to Italy. They did so well that military brass formed the 442nd.
The 100th had such a great record that even though the 442nd absorbed them, the 100th got to keep their "100th" name. The MIS was a top-secret group that was essentially a military linguist school. MIS graduates were typically embedded into existing military units and helped interrogate Japanese POWs, translate documents and worked in counterintelligence.
Military historians consider the MIS to have shortened the war with Japan considerably. Women also served in the MIS, including the Women's Army Corps, Cadet Nurse Corps, and other supporting roles.
But Fusa Takahashi, who was incarcerated in Colorado and whose husband Kazuo served in the MIS during WWII, started a campaign with two other Japanese American women who were also incarcerated.
They called it "Stamp Our Story," an effort to commemorate the 442nd and the service of the Japanese Americans in WWII, with an official United States Postal Service stamp.
"We wanted to have something tangible that the people will remember," Fusa said.
The idea was not so easy to make a reality. Despite widespread support, Fusa and her co-founders ran into internal policies that stalled their progress.
But like the 442nd, they continued to forge ahead, and as history would have it, over 15 years after they began their campaign on the steps of the Japanese American National Museum in LA, they found out last year that they got their stamp. It will be issued in June.
"We were so happy and elated. The Japanese American soldiers were able to accomplish so much and give it their best because that's what our parents taught us," Fusa said.
The big story of this little stamp is also finding its way into classrooms and speaking to future generations of Japanese Americans.
"They should really be proud of their heritage," Takahashi said.
And for those like Miyada who served, the stamp tells a story that the pictures alone might not be able to.
"Citizenship is not a matter of race. It's not a matter of religion, not a matter of creed. It's a matter of Americanism. These people are Americans just as anybody else," Miyada said.