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Friday, June 7, 2013

Japanese American WWII Veteran Looks Back

photo

Note: Susumu Ito’s photos from World War II were taken with a cheap Argos 35mm camera. He was told not to bring a camera, but he did anyway.

This week marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy which began the retaking of Europe from the Nazis.

One of the most illustrious units in the European theater — though perhaps not very well-known — was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was composed almost entirely of Japanese American soldiers.

Susumu Ito, left, is pictured with his colleage George Takayanagi  in front of the Arch of Constantine in Rome, Italy. (Vincent Yee photo of Susumu Ito photo)

Susumu Ito, left, is pictured with his colleage George Takayanagi in front of the Arch of Constantine in Rome, Italy. (Vincent Yee photo of Susumu Ito photo)

The 442nd is one of the most decorated units in U.S. Army history. Its members were awarded more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor, as well as eight Presidential Unit Citations.

Many of the unit were volunteers, eager to prove their loyalty to the United States, despite the fact that the U.S. had put they and their families into internment camps.

Susumu Ito, 93, was one of the 442nd soldiers. He first came to our attention through a Boston Globe food article about his party snack “Spam Musubi” (recipe here).

However, Here & Now producer Emiko Tamagawa wanted to talk to him about his experiences in World War II, which he was happy to share.

Inside the interment camp 

Because he was drafted prior to World War II, Ito was not interned with his family. However, since his family was sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, he was able to visit the camp and experience it for himself when he was with the 442nd at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.”

– Susumu Ito

“In many ways it was appalling. They lived in barracks and they had nothing in it but a pot-bellied stove for heat, and cots. They made these livable by hanging blankets and forth,” Ito said.

The bathroom had communal showers and toilets.

“This was a demeaning experience for people who like their privacy.”

Still wanting to serve

Despite this, he and his fellow 442nd soldiers had no qualms about serving in the military.

“I didn’t think at the time — and I still don’t think that it was due to heroic or deep-ingrained patriotism, but it was something that was developed in us, perhaps, as I think back, by my parents. They instilled in me some of this spirit of being dedicated to your country,” Ito said.

He and many of his fellow soldiers wanted the challenge of combat, Ito said. Though his mother wanted him to stay in non-combat posts, he chose to volunteer to patrol with the infantry.

Susumu Ito is second from the right in this photo taken in France during WWII of four Japanese American soldiers who became officers in the 44nd. The other three veterans are now deceased. (Vincent Yee photo of Susumu Ito photo)

Susumu Ito is second from the right in this photo taken in France during WWII of four Japanese American soldiers who became officers in the 44nd. The other three veterans are now deceased. (Vincent Yee photo of Susumu Ito photo)

As such, was involved in one of the 442nd’s most perilous but best-known missions, the rescue of the “The Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains.

“They were surrounded, they couldn’t fight their way out and the Germans were determined that they would capture or kill the surrounded Americans,” Ito said.

No regrets

His memories of that time still give him goose bumps, though he doesn’t consider himself to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Now, more than 60 years later, Susumu Ito says he has no regrets about his World War II service.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing. I certainly would not have been happy if I did not serve, and serve to the best of my ability.”

Guest:

  • Susumu Ito, retired Harvard professor who served with the 442nd unit in World War II.

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