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Recognizing the Service of Asian Pacific American Veterans

The following is a guest blog post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).

Throughout the month of May, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, and remember the contributions made by people of Asian Pacific descent. Those contributions are numerous, from Duke Kahanamoku, who brought the sport of surfing into the mainstream, to Steven Chu, who earned the Nobel Prize in physics for pioneering methods in supercooling atoms. However, the contributions to our nation that required the most courage, dedication and sacrifice were undoubtedly those of veterans.

Perhaps the most notable and selfless examples from this group are the Nisei veterans of World War II. Along with their parents, children, aunts and uncles, they were rounded up by their own U.S. government, forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. After these grave injustices, nobody could have possibly blamed Japanese Americans for turning their backs on the country that betrayed them, yet, instead, thousands of Nisei volunteered to go to war.

One such volunteer was Warren Tsuneishi. Tsuneishi was living in Monrovia, California, when Executive Order 9066 forced his family to be relocated to the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming. He received a special dispensation to leave the camp and get his college degree from Syracuse University After finishing his senior year early, he volunteered for the Army, and enrolled in the Military Intelligence Service Language School—the only option offered to him as a Japanese American except for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Warren Tsuneishi returns to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center to visit his family after joining the Army. Warren Michio Tsuneishi Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/02153.

After six months of schooling, he deployed to the Pacific Theater to translate captured Japanese documents and interrogate prisoners. One of the documents his team captured and translated happened to be the Japanese military’s entire defense plan for the island of Okinawa. What the documents revealed was an unconventional strategy of allowing the Americans to advance to the heart of the island, where the Japanese had concentrated their forces in fortified positions. Once the Americans were engaged, kamikaze planes were to destroy the supply ships off the coast, cutting off the American infantry from resupply and reinforcement. Though the battles on Okinawa were still hard-fought and bloody, the Allies were able to avoid this trap, and countless American lives were saved due to Tsuneishi’s translation and interpretation of the captured documents.

Warren Tsuneishi (left) poses for a photo on The Philipines. Warren Michio Tsuneishi Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/02153.

Despite making up only about 1% of the U.S. military, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made contributions well beyond their size. This May and throughout the year, take some time to think about their achievements, and to appreciate how they have shaped our nation for the better. Learn more about Asian Americans in the U.S. military by visiting our Experiencing War feature: “Asian Pacific Americans: Going for Broke.”

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