San Diego’s Historic Places: Veterans Memorial Museum hosts exhibit on Japanese-American members of the Armed Forces
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—Probably no event has seared into the consciousness of the Japanese-American community more painfully than their forced relocation from their homes on the West Coast of the United States to internment camps in the interior of the country during World War II.
This is the central portion of an exhibit at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Balboa Park that compellingly examines the 20th century history of Japanese American soldiers from San Diego. The portable exhibit will remain through Memorial Day (May 31) and then be returned to the archives of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.
Although the exhibit covers more than 100 years, conceptually it is book-ended by the experiences of Navy cook Sago Takata, who was one of 60 men killed in 1905 when the USS Bennington’s boilers exploded in San Diego Bay, and those of Lt. Cmdr. Craig Osaki, who at the end of the 20th century was an expert in the Iraq War on the use and repair of robots to remove enemy-planted explosive devices.
A few months after Japan’s military forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, notices were posted on telephone poles and on walls in San Diego neighborhoods where Japanese Americans were known to live. Families were given one week to pack their belongings and prepare for relocation to the interior. Initially most families from San Diego were taken to the Santa Anita Race Track, where horse stalls served as their temporary homes until an internment camp at Poston, Arizona, could be readied.
Poston was one of ten major internment camps built by the United States government. “From August 1942 until Poston closed in late 1945, the families attempted to live normal lives under circumstances that were anything but normal,” the narrative said.
San Diegan Tetsuzo Hirasaki had been a close friend of the city’s chief librarian Clara Breed. Using a sharpened bed spring, he carved for her from mesquite wood a nameplate that she proudly displayed on her desk at the San Diego Public Library. Instead of being sent to Poston with the rest of his family, Hirasaki’s father, Chiyomatsu, had been sent to camps in North Dakota and New Mexico. The family asked Breed, who wrote a column, to do what she could to help reunite them.
At first, the military was not interested in enlisting Japanese Americans, considering them too great a security risk. Although Mas Tsuida was a seafaring fisherman, the Navy had no desire for his skills. Eventually, however, the U.S. Army created a segregated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for Japanese Americans willing to fight in the European theatre against Nazi Germany.
After joining, Tsuida was sent to Fort Reilly, Kansas for his basic training. One day he and all the other Japanese-American soldiers were “herded into a single barracks surrounded by military police with machine guns at the ready,” the exhibit related. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt was visiting the base and the MPs were protecting him from those questionable U.S. soldiers.” Afterwards, Tsuida was sent to Naples, Italy, and would fight in Italy and France. He was injured in the October 1944 battle in which the 442nd was sent into the Vosges Mountains to rescue the “Lost Battalion,” which had been surrounded by the Germans. The 442nd was successful, but not without sustaining heavy casualties. At war’s end, Tsuida returned to his life as a fisherman.
Other Japanese-American soldiers had their basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where those from the mainland United States found themselves thrown in with Japanese from Hawaii, with whom a fierce rivalry initially developed. However, as an exhibit photograph of San Diegan Sam Yamaguchi wearing Hawaiian garb illustrates, the two groups were molded in a single unit.
Among San Diegans fighting in World War II were Yasuichi ‘Jimmy’ Kimura, who used to drive a truck on local vegetable farms before his family was relocated to the internment camp. In the Army, he drove trucks and performed maintenance on them in both the European and North African campaigns. He was awarded a purple heart with an oak leaf cluster for wounds sustained during the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.”
After the war, the services of Japanese-Americans were called upon as interpreters and in other capacities in the occupation of Japan and of Okinawa. San Diegan Francis Tanaka, who later would become a physician with Scripps Mercy Hospital, served as a medical interpreter on Okinawa in 1945 and 1946. Shizue Suwa, a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy nurse corps, was stationed in occupied Japan.
When the internment camps closed in late 1945, Japanese-Americans moved back to San Diego. Those whose family members had served in the military were eligible for veterans’ family housing. The exhibit extensively quotes from Grim The Battles, a 1954 memoir by Daisy Lee Worthington Worcester. Arriving at the Frontier Housing Project in the Midway District of San Diego, a group of Japanese-American families encountered the hostility of Anglo families already living there.
“The Japanese sat in chairs along the walls, heads cast down as if to avoid hostile glances but not enabling them to escape low murmured expressions of hatred. An emergency meeting of the tenant council was held that evening,” Worcester wrote. One woman who served as secretary of the tenant council threatened there would be “a dead Jap” before morning if any of them were placed in the unit where she lived. “The meeting lasted until midnight. There was not one person who did not take part in the discussion. I witnessed a miracle that night—the miracle of serious people thinking and feeling together, striving to be above all good Americans and decent human beings.” The upshot was that there was a complete turnaround, including by the woman who had made the ‘dead Jap’ threat. The tenants decided to oppose any discrimination on the basis of race or creed or color. Additionally, they formed a committee to welcome each Japanese-American family to the complex.
Although the war was over, the experience of the internment camps continued to have its influence on the Japanese-American community. The exhibit notes that the 1951 Korean conflict “brought a whole new generation of Japanese Americans into the military…. These Japanese American youths had spent their formative years in internment camps and most had watched their parents lose everything during World War II. Nevertheless, they served when called upon…”
Among San Diegans who went to Korea was Jim Yanagihara who served in a mobile hospital unit such as that made famous by the television series M*A*S*H. “As part of the multinational United Nations force, Yanagihara came into contact with soldiers from other countries and he had high praise especially for the Ethiopian soldiers. He recalls ‘I was really impressed by these soldiers. They never complained.’”
The comment can be juxtaposed with the forward to the exhibit on Japanese-American soldiers, which explained: “Two Japanese words provide a running theme for this exhibition and describe the motivations for Japanese-Americans to serve. One is giri meaning duty, and the other is gaman, which means to endure….”
These concepts were tested in the Vietnam War, when like other young men in the United States many questioned the justness of that war. However the Japanese Americans “did not find it easy to openly express their thoughts. Nearly all had an uncle, brother or father who had been interned and who had served with distinction during World War II and Korea…. Many of those who served in Vietnam were born in the U.S. internment camps.”
Alan Hayashi, who was born in the Poston, Arizona camp, was drafted into the Army in 1969 after graduation from San Diego State University. He “received the bronze star for actions to cut the supply chain known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail near Da Nang, as well as many other commendations from the United States and the Republic of Vietnam.” He commented that he was “raised with the value of loyalty to my country.”
Among the first San Diegans killed in the Vietnam War was Sgt. Shugi Julio Kaneko, whose family were Japanese Peruvians who, at the suggestion of the American government, were sent to an internment camp in Texas to possibly be traded for U.S. prisoners of war held by Japan. However, his family was not needed for such an exchange and they eventually settled in San Diego. Unlike the Japanese-Americans who eventually received a U.S. government apology and $20,000 as redress for their wrongful internment during World War II, the Japanese-Peruvians never were eligible for the award.
Although San Diegan Robert Ito didn’t serve in Vietnam—his draft number having never been called – he remembered vividly stories told to him by San Diegan David Uda “about the racism and the mean-spirited attitudes of his fellow U.S. soldiers,” according to the narration. “When U.S. helicopters flew over, he would dive in the brush for the cover because he (having Asian features) didn’t want to be mistaken for the enemy….”
Containing criticism as it does of the actions of the American government, the exhibit demonstrates that the Veterans Memorial Museum is not only a repository for the memoirs of San Diegans who served in the military but also is an institution willing to examine controversies affecting the military. This makes the museum an even more valuable resource in a city of proud military tradition. Elsewhere in the museum, there are exhibits about San Diegan experiences in different branches of the military, on different fronts and in different wars—providing a kaleidoscopic introduction to the U.S. military experience.
Speeches by veterans about their individual experiences often enliven visitors’ experiences at the museum.
Outside the museum, there are some permanent memorials, including monuments with the names of San Diegans who died in the Vietnam War. Moved from its original location in Old Town San Diego to the Veterans Memorial Museum, these plaques constituted what was considered the first-in-the-nation memorial to Vietnam Veterans, erected even while controversy about the war raged.
In a park leading to the museum’s front door, there is a sculpture by Robert Henderson of a B24 Liberator Bomber which as noted on a plaque had an impact both on the outcome of World War II and the development of San Diego’s industrial sector.
“The airplane was designed by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation where more than a third of all B24sx were build during World War II,” the plaque reports. “At the peak of production more than 45,000 San Diegans worked at Consolidated building the B24. Other San Diego manufacturers brought the number even higher. Subcontractors included Rohr Industries in Chula Vista, Ryan Aeronautical Company and Solar Corporation both in San Diego. The B24 Liberator was flown by all branches of the U.S. military and by every major ally during World War II. Altogether, 19,256 liberators of all types and models were built. The Consolidated B24 Liberator was the most mass produced American aircraft of all time.”
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. This article previously was published on examiner.com
QUESTION PERIOD—Brian Greenspun and Scott Goldstein listen to a question
posed by an audience member at San Diego Jewish Film Festival Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla, California
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO — Where I Stand: The Hank Greenspun Story introduced to attendees of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival a man who in Las Vegas and among influential people in Israel had been a legend during his lifetime. Publisher of the Las Vegas Sun until his death in 1989, Greenspun seemed to interact with 20th century American history the way the fictional movie character Forrest Gump did—although with a big difference. Events somehow just happened to Gump, bringing him into contact with the rich and famous. The real-life Herman “Hank” Greenspun, on the other hand, made events happen.
Greenspun was a larger-than-life figure in Las Vegas, a public relations man with a talent for recognizing opportunity and a man who perceived a wide gap between the “law” and “justice.” While he sometimes violated the former, he risked his life and reputation in pursuit of the latter.
That, at least, is the take on his life by film maker Scott Goldstein, who won a pair of Emmy’s as the producer of television’s “L.A. Law” Series. But while Goldstein’s film, financed by the late publisher’s family, provides good material for the historical record, it is far from the last objective word on Greenspun’s life. Far more digging is required.
Although the documentary covers numerous chapters in Greenspun’s life, none resonated more with the Jewish film festival crowd than the extensive coverage of Greenspun’s efforts—in violation of American law—to obtain and smuggle arms to the Haganah during Israel’s Independence War of 1948.
Working under future Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and with future Israel Aircraft Industries founder Al Schwimmer, Greenspun stole machine guns and tons of other weapons from a poorly-guarded military depot in Hawaii, shipped them first to Los Angeles and later to Mexico, and in the process threatened to kill an American and a Mexican boat captain who balked at smuggling the contraband. He did not have to follow through, no doubt not only to their relief, but his as well.
So soon after the murder of the Six Million in the Holocaust, Greenspun fervently believed that the cause of Israel was just, even if support of the beleaguered Jews in the newly declared nation violated America’s neutrality law. Eventually, the FBI and the Justice Department decided to make an example of him and Schwimmer, bringing charges against them while dropping charges against lesser figures in the illegal gun-running operation.
Schwimmer, a former American military officer who based his airplane-smuggling operations in Czechoslovakia and later moved to Israel, remained out of reach of the FBI, but Greenspun was put on trial and convicted. However, the judge decided not to give Greenspun any prison time, opting instead to fine him $10,000 and to strip him of his citizenship rights. As much as he loved politics, as a convicted felon Greenspun could not vote until he was pardoned for his actions by President John F. Kennedy.
This wasn’t in the documentary, but Schwimmer, interestingly, never wanted a pardon, arguing that to ask for one would suggest that he believed he had done something wrong. Greenspun’s son, Brian, helped obtain one for Schwimmer anyway by appealing to President Bill Clinton, who had been the younger Greenspun’s classmate at Georgetown University.
In describing the invaluable service that Greenspun had provided to the brand new state of Israel, its President Shimon Peres practically choked up with gratitude during an interview in the documentary. Hundreds if not thousands of Israeli soldiers would have died, had it not been for the weapons that Greenspun had helped obtain for Israel, Peres asserted,
Two years before Greenspun died, the American Jew Jonathan Pollard was arrested for transferring classified secrets to Israel. Many felt the former U.S. intelligence agent had done nothing more than deliver to Israel the kind of information that was rightly due to an American ally. Others cast Pollard as nothing more than a profit-seeking opportunist, one who was ready to sell U.S. secrets not only to Israel but to other countries as well. Although there was a plea bargain with prosecutors, Pollard was meted out a life sentence by the judge.
As moderator of the film festival presentation on Tuesday, February 16, of Where I Stand, I was able to alternate with audience members in posing some questions to the younger Greenspun—who has succeeded his father as publisher of the Las Vegas Sun and director of a large Nevada media and real estate empire—as well as to Scott Goldstein, the movie maker.
Given that both Pollard and the elder Greenspun had put their concern for Israel ahead of the laws of the United States, I asked what position Hank Greenspun had taken on the Pollard case. Brian Greenspun responded that he didn’t recall for certain, but suspected that his father believed people who break the law in pursuit of a moral principle have to do so with a willingness to pay the price.
Brian Greenspun related that during the time of the Vietnam War, when some protesters fled to Canada rather than be drafted, his father accompanied him to a college campus where there were recruiting stations for both the Army and Air Force reserve officers training corps. The father told the son that it was likely he would have to serve in the military, and if he did, it was better to be an officer. But if Brian couldn’t bring himself to do that, he should be willing to go to jail rather than to Canada. He should stand up for what he believed, in other words.
Another chapter in the film dealt with Greenspun’s abortive efforts in the 1970s to be a peacemaker. When Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was in the midst of his historic negotiations with Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin for an Israeli-Egyptian peace, Greenspun tried through Adnan Khashoggi (who later became familiar to Americans who followed the Iran-Contra affair) to influence the Saudi Royal Family to give Mideast peace their blessing. According to an interview with Hank Greenspun included in the documentary, the Saudi family agreed, provided that Saudi Arabia be given sovereignty over the Temple Mount, where both the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are located. As Hank Greenspun told the story, the deal would have gone through—save for Saddam Hussein of Iraq raising such a fuss about it that the Saudi Royal Family backed away. Other, published, accounts say it wasn’t Hussein, it was Prime Minister Begin who scuttled the deal: He reportedly was opposed to giving up Israel’s sovereignty over the place revered by Jews as the location of the first and second Temple.
As the documentary’s two chapters on Israel are exciting, and yet, are far from definitive history, so too are other chapters in the documentary not much more than slices of intriguing information that really need to be fleshed out by historians. I don’t fault filmmaker Goldstein for this, he would need to do a many-part series of documentaries to cover these various chapters in depth. He deserves credit for opening up the mine and showing us the veins of historical gold.
There are stories needing to be elaborated in the documentary about the mob’s impact on Las Vegas, and Greenspun’s relationship with some of the most notorious underworld figures. We see him, a young, ambitious former Broadway New York public relations man, coming to Las Vegas, publishing a small magazine about Las Vegas entertainment, and encountering Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel on a stairway. Pleased that Greenspun never called him “Bugsy” in print, instead identifying him by his given name of “Benjamin,” Siegel eventually offered Greenspun a job as public relations director for the Flamingo Hotel. Greenspun knew whom he was getting into bed with, but decided to take the job anyway.
Siegel subsequently was murdered, the documentary explaining that the mob didn’t take kindly to all the money Siegel had lost on the Flamingo. Later, during the Israel gun-running episode, when Longshoremen in New York threatened to reveal what cargo they really were loading, they were persuaded by members of the mob from Detroit that it would be better to load the material without extra pay, then to not load it with broken knee caps. That this is included in the documentary at all hints that Greenspun had something to do with the mob connection. Greenspun, meanwhile, as a part owner of the Desert Inn, found himself on the outs when a new owner – mobster Moe Dalitz—took it over. Becoming publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, Greenspun campaigned against mobbed-up hotels, but according to Brian Greenspun, the mob tolerated him—at least most of the time.
In the documentary, Greenspun’s children tell of growing up with friends who were the children of mobsters, making them think that everyone’s father, except their own, had “the” as a middle name – as in “___ the lip” or “___the blade.” One time, a gentleman who came to the door—and who was let into the house by the kids—turned out to be a mob hit man with a contract on Greenspun. The publisher recognized him, and ascertaining that he was a family man, told the mobster he shouldn’t kill him in front of his children, but should wait until the following morning. The hit man agreed, Greenspun made some phone calls, and the matter went away. In Tuesday’s question and answer session, Brian Greenspun elaborated that the hit was due to a misunderstanding between different branches of the mob—apparently a dispute in which Greenspun wasn’t an essential ingredient. Obviously there is more digging to do into this chapter, as there are in other chapters.
We see in the documentary stories about Greenspun’s clash against red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy; Greenspun’s successful backing for racial integration of Las Vegas casinos; and Greenspun’s luring of Howard Hughes to Las Vegas, where the eccentric aircraft pioneer purchased a half dozen hotels from the mob as playthings.
There is also a bizarre chapter which played out in the Watergate hearings leading up to the resignation of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, in which the “plumbers” who broke into Democratic National Headquarters also planned to break into a safe Greenspun had in his office.
The Nixon operatives were concerned that papers in the safe may have dealt with the question of whether Howard Hughes had funneled cash directly to Nixon and his family. In Tuesday’s question and answer session, Brian Greenspun said actually the Hughes papers had to do with far more mundane matters, but that because Nixon had been embarrassed by a Hughes loan in the 1962 California governor’s race, his operatives feared history might repeat itself. He said that Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt shared that information with him and his father after Hunt was released from prison.
In its effort to cover so much ground, the documentary had to gloss over many issues – including how Greenspun had amassed his fortune in real estate by buying up Paradise Valley and his early approval, and later opposition, to nuclear testing in Nevada. Members of the publisher’s family believe that exposure to above-ground testing may have triggered the cancer to which Greenspun succumbed.
While the documentary is far from complete – it skipped over entirely, for example, Greenspun’s unsuccessful run in 1962 for the Republican nomination for governor of Nevada – it is stirring, imaginative, and eye-opening—not the end , perhaps, but a significant beginning in the measurement of the impact one man can have on a society.
Goldstein said he hoped that the 2008 documentary, now making the rounds of Jewish film festivals, eventually will be seen by a larger television or cable audience, although he said outfits such as the “History Channel” now seem to prefer “reality-style” programming rather than serious documentaries. To my eyes, the documentary seems tailor-made for airing over the Public Broadcasting System.
It deserves to be seen … and discussed.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–Israel radio announced that The Times of London was accusing Israel of “waging covert war across the Middle East.” The worry was that this would be the start of another campaign to condemn and delegitimize Israel, recruit support for boycotts of its exports and its academics, and arrange arrest warrants for officials and military personnel.
The headline resembles what we heard on the radio, but the article is more descriptive than prescriptive. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article7025821.ece
It speculates about a series of killings that could be ascribed to Israel, and notes the lack of response from Israeli authorities. While it is impossible to predict how Israel-bashers will respond, the article itself contains neither condemnation nor overt criticism.
Another article in the Washington Post may serve to limit a renewed focus on Israel. “Under Obama, more targeted killings than captures in counterterrorism efforts.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/13/AR2010021303748.html?hpid=topnews
The Post article is also descriptive, but may contain more ammunition for critics than the Times article about Israel. The Post details the choices faced by the administration between capture and killing, and indicates that the easier task of killing has the downside of wiping out a possible source of intelligence. It also notes the problems caused by American human rights advocates and the president’s pledge–so far not honored–of closing Guantanamo, and the closing of US military prisons in other countries. Without opportunities to hold suspects under American control but outside the United States, the choice of capture is less attractive. Holding suspects within the United States would subject the process to a range of legal constraints, which was the reason for using Guantanamo and those military and CIA facilities in countries willing to accommodate America’s security needs.
Israel as well as the United States has its opponents to killing the bad guys. Military personnel have said on numerous occasions that they would prefer capture, and getting what they can from the prisoners to help them go after others who are intent on violence, or to locate their stores of munitions. Israel holds some 12,000 Palestinian security prisoners in several facilities. It does not kill lightly. Operational realities often dictate killing rather than capture. On several occasion it has suspended the policy of assassinations, and it has stopped ongoing missions that would endanger numerous civilians. Other missions have killed enough civilians to produce considerable outrage, both locally and overseas.
The Washington Post article, along with reports over the years from Israel, suggest that both countries operate by similar norms. Ranking officers must approve each attack, and may operate under the close control of the highest civilian officials.
A highly critical article of US practice written in response to the Washington Post article indicates that some of the people targeted by the United States are American citizens. Three of them are said to be currently on the list for extermination. According to one official, if ”we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.” http://www.faxts.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=275:rights-legal-experts-slam-targeted-killings-of-us-citizens&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=121
Similarities between these features of American and Israeli counter-terrorism campaigns raise the question of who learned from who.
Both countries have a long record of assassination. John F. Kennedy is said to have approved the killing of Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, and Richard Nixon is given ultimate responsibility for the death of Chilean president Salvador Allende.
The Washington Post credits George W. Bush with beginning the use of targeted killings as part of his war against terror after 9-11, and says that Barack Obama has increased their use.
To my knowledge, no American president has actually pulled a trigger or pressed a button to produce a targeted killing. Some assign a direct role in the assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte to the young Yitzhak Shamir, who became prime minister 35 years later.
The questions invited by this discussion are:
* Will the United Nations send Richard Goldstone against the United States of America? and
*Will Benyamin Netanyahu receive the Nobel Prize for Peace?
Do not accuse me of naivete. Cynicism maybe.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.