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Three men stand in front of a memorial stone, with a large tree and parking lot behind them. The man on the far left is wearing a gray sweatshirt, and is holding a gray shopping bag. The man in the center is wearing blue jeans, a pattered orange shirt, and a baseball cap. The man on the far right is wearing a black vest, black baseball cap, and red shirt.
A VHP Liaison Specialist is welcomed by JAVEA/AACOMP Board Members Ken Hayashi and David Miyoshi to the Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court in Downtown Los Angeles last year. Photograph courtesy of JAVEA/AACOMP.

“A Couple of Guys and an Idea”: Preserving Japanese American Veteran Voices in Los Angeles

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The following is a guest blog post by Don Bannai and George Wada, Veterans History Project interviewers with the Asian American Community Media Project.

Two years ago a couple of guys, George Wada and Don Bannai, had an idea. Japanese American veterans of the Vietnam era deserved to have their oral histories recorded to recognize their contribution to our community and way of life.

Like others who were fortunate to return from their service, these veterans faced hostility and anger and many simply slipped into the shadows.

Some of their fathers and uncles served during World War II in the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated units for their size in US military history. Their stories were celebrated in our communities and their oral histories recorded by the Japanese American National Museum and the Hanashi Oral Histories of Go For Broke National Education Center.

We were told, “It’s a good idea, people have talked about it for years, it could be done but would take $250K to get started, and there is no one who has the digital storage space to place these interviews.”

We discovered that the Chinese Family History Group, along with Congressman Ted Lieu’s Office, had been working with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and had a planned weekend event to record histories in Santa Monica, California.

Our curiosity led us to investigate more about the Veterans History Project. George Wada had a camera, lighting and background gear.

So…. 18 months ago we decided to give it a shot. Chris Segawa provided us a place in his small hair salon to begin recording digital interviews. On a Monday in late November 2022, Mickey Nozawa sat down not to get a haircut but to do an interview. To get started we needed to turn off all the heaters and crawl under the counter to unplug the refrigerator so the fans didn’t make noise.

The lighting wasn’t quite right. There was no space behind the camera because it was up against a sink but we just started. Did we know what we were doing? Not really.

Now eighteen months later, we have submitted 76 collected interviews to the Veterans History Project. Currently 61 have been processed and 27 digitized with the full collection available online.

The feedback we have been getting from Veterans and their families is gratifying. The individual stories are all unique. Many stories stand out–narratives of communities they grew up in, boot camp, being on the ground in country, returning to the States and being rejected and particularly the guys who are still dealing with the war with the challenges of PTSD and Agent Orange exposure.

Here are a few that stand out.

Chris Segawa served in the Army and when asked where he was born his response was, “Amache, Colorado concentration camp.” His father and mother had been removed from the west coast after the start of World War II. His father later enlisted in the Army and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit of World War II for its size and length of service.

An older man sits in front of a gray backdrop, wearing a black baseball cap and a beige polo shirt.
Still image from Kenneth Sadao Hayashi’s oral history interview. Kenneth Sadao Hayashi Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/124999.

“These stories need to come out,” says Ken Hayashi who served in Vietnam. “Probably most of us have still not spoken to our wives and families in any depth about this.”

David Miyoshi, a Marine Corps veteran, addresses two incidents in his military service in his oral history, one just prior to his graduation from Officer Candidate School and one the first evening after arriving in Vietnam, both which pertain to an additional challenge that many Asian American soldiers faced serving in a war zone.

On first contact with veterans, some cannot believe the Library of Congress has established this program and that their story will be included.

Family members have told us that they have never heard some of the stories. For the veterans themselves the interview process can be part of a healing process as they tell their stories for the first time.

Individually these stories are valuable. Each veteran is unique. For this particular group they have an additional value collectively telling stories of a minority population born in or immediately after the incarceration of the Japanese American population of 120,000 during World War II.  They came of age during the Vietnam War and some of the last to be drafted into serving their country.

We have started our next step. We recognize the value in these recordings documenting the veteran of the Vietnam War Era and have started recording all veterans we meet. Our next submissions will be under the name Asian American Community Media Project (AACOMP) as we seek to honor those who have served us.




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