Seventy years ago today, Japan attacked a naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing and wounding thousands of Americans. The enemy might have been Japan, but in the American melting pot there were many Japanese faces. The Pearl Harbor inspired solidarity in America soon gave way to distrust and a staggering suspension of the U.S. Constitution. "War Relocation Camps" for 100,000 Japanese-Americans were set up, and entire families of American citizens were forced to halt their lives and move. Some of those relocated Japanese-Americans petitioned the U.S. to serve in combat as a way of demonstrating their loyalty. The petitions were accepted, and soon Japanese-Americans were fighting as both volunteers and drafted servicemen. Two Japanese American veterans join The Takeaway to share their memories of Pearl Harbor, and World War II.
Virgil Westdale is a veteran of the Japanese American 442nd division, the most decorated combat regiment in U.S. history. He went on to help free the prisoners of the Dachau Concentration Camp and last month, received a Congressional Gold Medal.
And Terry Shima was drafted to serve in Italy in 1944, just in time to see the war end. He is a historian with the Japanese American Veterans Association, and also a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.