Eric Saul has been working on Japanese American historical projects since 1979.
As Director of the Presidio Army Museum, he developed the first exhibit on Japanese American soldiers. The exhibit was prepared in 1980, along with a committee of Nisei veterans of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, as well as the Nisei soldiers of the Military Intelligence Service.
A major creative and driving force behind the Go For Broke exhibit was a Nisei veteran, Chester Tanaka. Chester was a veteran of K Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Here is his story.
The exhibit premiered at the museum on March 6, 1981. Click here for photographs of the historic opening ceremony. The exhibit was called Go For Broke – Yankee Samurai: The Story of the Japanese American Soldier in World War II. After showing at the Presidio Museum, the Go For Broke exhibit travelled throughout the United States.
Saul and General Ray Peers proposed the exhibit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1982. The exhibit was adapted by the Museum into a major exhibition that opened on October 1, 1987 to mark the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The exhibit was called A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution. It was presented there for over 20 years. Saul served as an initial consultant at the Museum.
The exhibit was used by Japanese American Senators and Congressmen to lobby their fellow lawmakers to support the Japanese American redress and reparations movement. This successful civil rights bill was, in fact, the first time in American history that reparations were paid collectively to a group of Americans whose civil rights were violated. Click here for the story.
The success of the exhibit led, eventually, to the creation of the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS). Saul was a co-founder and the founding curator of this organization. He curated a number of exhibitions related to the Japanese American experience.
In addition, the Japanese American community in Southern California created the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in response to the installation of the More Perfect Union exhibit at the Smithsonian. A $5 million grant was provided by the State of California for the creation of this museum.
The More Perfect Union exhibit was a catalyst and inspiration for many Japanese American historical projects that followed. It was truly an engine for social change.
We have just added the moving story of Solly Ganor, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who was liberated by Japanese American soldiers. Learn more about Solly here and read excerpts from his book, Light One Candle: A Survivor's Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem.
Virtual Exhibit on Nisei Soldiers in World War II
We have three virtual exhibits on Japanese American soldiers in World War II. These are recreations of the exhibits that were originally presented at the Presidio Army Museum by Eric Saul and the Nisei veterans. The first exhibit tells the story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The second exhibit depicts the role of the Nisei soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery and their participation in the liberation of Jewish prisoners in the Holocaust. The third exhibit focuses on the 6,000 Nisei soldiers who participated as military intelligence experts and linguists in the Pacific campaigns, 1941-1945. Included are numerous quotes by Japanese American veterans from our oral history projects, as well as extensive quotes about the forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We have collected several thousand photographs from a number of prominent archives and directly from Nisei veterans, which will be posted as part of these virtual exhibits. Click on the exhibit titles below to view each of the virtual exhibits.
Eric Saul Speech on Nisei Soldiers in World War II
Click here for the speech, "In Defense of Liberty: Japanese American Soldiers in World War II," which was given by Eric Saul at the dedication of the Nakamura courthouse in Seattle, Washington, in 2001.
Eric Saul Speech on Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II
Click here for the speech, "Minnesota's Secret Weapon: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service," which was given by Eric Saul at an exhibit opening at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 17, 2015. The exhibit was originally curated by Eric Saul in 1981 and was entitled "Yankee Samurai: The Story of Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II," which premiered at the Presidio Army Museum in San Francisco in 1981.
Japanese American Chronology
Click here to access the Japanese American Chronology.
The purpose of this chronology is to provide an integrated and comprehensive history of Japanese Americans. It attempts to detail the social, political and military history of Japanese Americans. Integrated into the timeline will be major historical events, both national and international. It will cover primarily the period of the late 19th Century to present. The principal emphasis will be the period of World War II and its aftermath.
We will also document the post-war accomplishments of the Japanese American civil rights movements, including the redress and reparations movement that culminated in House Resolution 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Click here to access list of Kansha honorees.
In Japanese tradition, there are people in every generation whose responsibility it is to do good and to help others. Also it is Japanese tradition to recognize and reward their good behavior (kansha).
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, racial tensions ran very high in the territory of Hawaii. In an effort to help defuse these tensions, Chinese businessman Hung Wai Ching created and co-chaired the Morale Committee. The purpose of the Committee was to provide reliable information to the various ethnic communities and the civil and military administration in Hawaii. Hung Wai Ching intervened on behalf of Japanese Americans on numerous occasions throughout the war. He developed a friendship with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, through which he gained access to President Roosevelt. In a meeting with the President, he forcibly argued against the imprisonment and mistreatment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Hawaii and the mainland. Through his influence with Mrs. Roosevelt, he was also able to protect the Nisei soldiers of the 100th and 442nd against the prejudices of the day.
Mississippi rancher Earl Finch became a one-man USO for the soldiers of the 442nd while they were in basic training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He spent thousands of dollars putting on elaborate barbecues and even managed to recreate Hawaiian style luaus. This did much to encourage the Niseis to regain their morale despite the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Earl Finch remained a lifelong friend of the Nisei veterans of the 100th/442nd.
Mr. and Mrs. Walt Woodward were publishers and editors of the Bainbridge Review on Bainbridge Island, Washington. They wrote a series of editorials calling for respect for Japanese Americans. In their editorials, they came out strongly against the misguided forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. As a result of their strong stance, many Bainbridge Islanders canceled their subscriptions and businesses stopped advertising. The Woodward’s almost lost their paper as a result. Despite the financial setback they incurred by going against public opinion, the Woodward’s continued their campaign in support of their Japanese American neighbors.
Most Japanese Americans do not know the names of Hung Wai Ching, Earl Finch and Mr. and Mrs. Walt Woodward. The purpose of this project is to say thank you and to make these and many more names known.
As Japanese Americans of the war generation age and pass, many of these stories will be lost. There is an urgent need to document Japanese American and advocate stories before they are lost forever.
The Japanese words on (indebtedness, obligation) and kansha (gratitude, appreciation) represent values which were transmitted to the Nisei by our Issei forebears. They were an integral part of our early years and continue to remain deeply ingrained in our psyche and moral fiber today. Yet, many thousands of us who survived and remember the indignities, torments, injustices, and attendant hardships of World War II seem to have forgotten the on and kansha that we owe to those few Americans who befriended, aided and supported us during those years of trial. We have neglected to acknowledge these friends and their brave and compassionate acts.
After the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the storm of racial anger, fear, distrust and hysteria of the American public lashed out against all persons of Japanese ancestry. There were, however, a few remarkably fair and courageous Americans who never lost sight of our constitutional rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the principles of humanity and fair play. They openly opposed forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans, helped alleviate the loss and trauma of the forced removal, advocated fair treatment, and otherwise befriended, aided and supported the hapless minority at the time of their deepest suffering. They acted against the tide of overwhelming fear and community prejudice and pressure and courageously "stuck their necks out" in the face of threats and censure. They made personal sacrifices and suffered losses. Some of these courageous individuals lost their jobs and their businesses, while others were censured and publicly criticized for their courageous stance. But these individuals held steadfast to their convictions and belief in democracy and humanity. By their acts, they helped us Japanese Americans keep alive a shred of faith we held amidst the turmoil in our country, America.
Today, more than 75 years later, Japanese Americans have received a national apology as well as reparation payments. Thousands of Americans have viewed the Smithsonian Institution's outstanding exhibit, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the Constitution, which highlights how, under wartime stresses, many Americans, especially our leaders, failed to abide by the tenets of our Constitution in their deliberations and decisions. Memorials honoring the Nisei veterans have been established in Honolulu and Los Angeles. Recently, a monument honoring Japanese American patriotism during the war was dedicated in Washington, DC. In 2000, twenty Nisei heroes of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded the Medal of Honor. In addition, a Presidential Unit Citation was issued to honor the Military Intelligence Service Niseis who fought in the Pacific. In 2010, the U.S. Congress awarded Nisei soldiers who fought in World War II the Congressional Gold Medal. The official ceremony awarding the medal took place in the U.S. Capitol in November 2011.
Much of the sting of wartime injustices and humiliation suffered by Japanese Americans has been assuaged. Isn't it now time for us to invoke our sense of on and kansha and acknowledge, honor and thank those true Americans who supported us during World War II?
The 1985 celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawaii set an example for us when Hawaii's Japanese American community expressed its kansha by recognizing and honoring 24 individuals whose friendship and support contributed to the success and well-being of the immigrants and their descendants. After a public solicitation for nominees, a special committee conducted further research and selected the special honorees.
What is called for here would be a similar nomination, solicitation and search, national in scope and limited to the World War II and immediate post-war eras. The greatest number of worthy kansha nominees could be thus identified, since most Nisei and older Sansei know of at least one such laudable person. For this endeavor, the desired end result should not be a competitive selection to the exclusion of others, but rather a roster that honors all who are nominated for the kansha honor roll. The honorees will be identified and acknowledged with a descriptive narrative of what they did to warrant our undying gratitude. Such a "kansha honor roll" would become a part of the Japanese American narrative and legacy.
Those Who Championed Justice and Fair Play
Thousands of Japanese Americans were helped by individuals throughout World War II. Aiding Japanese Americans was potentially damaging to a person's career or standing in the community. Most Japanese Americans today are unaware that there were individuals willing to risk their careers and reputations to help them during the war years. Some individuals experienced outright hostility and even physical violence for advocating on behalf of Japanese Americans. In addition, there were numerous organizations that also risked their security and well being to help Japanese Americans.
Advocating on behalf of Japanese Americans took place in virtually every county and under every circumstance during the war.
In their decision to help the Japanese Americans, many individuals reported they acted out of conscience. Many acted out of a sense of simple human decency. Despite their acts of courage, most advocates do not consider themselves heroes.
The effort to identify and honor advocates of Japanese Americans is significant for many reasons. By documenting the presence of those who intervened throughout the United States and the territory of Hawaii, it proves that helping was possible. The many advocates proved that unjust decisions and policies could and should be opposed, and further that help and moral courage is always possible, not only by organized groups, but also by individuals acting on their own. By recognizing the noble deeds of the advocates, it consecrates the principle of justice, reminding us that justice is an inalienable right of all people.
Recognizing those who intervened on behalf of Japanese Americans encourages us to emulate those individuals and it shows us they were not saints by occupation or training, but were quite ordinary people in extraordinary times.
This project is important not only to the Japanese American community, but to the American community as well. This project would do much to increase our knowledge and scholarship of why people helped and the altruistic personality. Ultimately, it is the right thing to do.
Many Japanese Americans have privately acknowledged their advocates. But for many reasons, some Japanese Americans have not had the opportunity to publicly acknowledge these heroes.