Author: Mitsui, Sam
Title: Good Things Grow from Horse Manure
Source: Puka Puka Parades, 11/9/2005, December 2005, #05/11
(Editor’s Note: The following speech was given by Sam Mitsui at the Rotary Club of Seattle at The Avenue Theatre on Wednesday, November 9,2005. We are printing it as submitted to us, with limited editorial changes.)
“Good Things Grow From Horse Manure” by Sam Mitsui (Revised 11-5-2005)
My name is Sam Mitsui and I am a Nisei, a 2nd generation Japanese American, and my parents were called Issei, the 1st generation of immigrants from Japan.
I am here today to tell you about being placed in an American Concentration Camp after Pearl Harbor, and to honor the Nisei that served in the segregated 100TH Bn/442nd RCT & The Military Intelligence Service (MIS), during WW II and to honor my best friend, Pfc. Tom Haji of the 442nd.
I was in basic training as a replacement for the 442nd when a letter that I wrote to Tom, was returned with the words, “KIA,” Mt. Belvedere, Italy, April 9, 1945. After receiving this sad news, I made a pledge that I would never forget the sacrifice that Tom and the men of the 442nd made for us and would do all that I could to continue their legacy of Courage, Sacrifice and Loyalty. I’m sure that many of you have had this same experience of losing someone close to you in the service of our country. I hoped that someday, I would be able to visit the battlefield where Tom was killed in Italy.
I was born 79 yrs. ago, in the little town of Skykomish, WA, where Tom and I grew up and attended Skykomish High School.
I remember pledging allegiance to the flag every morning, and I always thought that I was an American, that is, until Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
The FBI came and took our short wave radio and my dad’s old pistol. A curfew was placed on us, so we could not leave our home from 8pm to 6am. People whom we thought were our friends would not speak to us. Our neighbor asked me if I was going back to Japan.
Not one teacher nor our principal supported us. We were convicted by their silence. The only one that spoke up for us was our basketball coach, who told the students that we were Americans, just like everyone else.
Stores had signs, “No Japs Allowed!” The newspapers were filled with articles of hate & racism, like, “Put the Japs in Detention Camps!” “Cartoons portrayed us as Slant Eyed, Buck Toothed, Yellow Japs” One day, I was walking down Main St, when 2 Marines grabbed me by the collar and said, “OK Jap, show me the yellow stripe running down your back!”
Gen. DeWitt, Comdr. of the Western Defense Command, said, “A Jap is a Jap, citizen or not, they will never change and cannot be trusted!” This was very disturbing to me. This was the only country that I knew and cared about, so why was everyone treating us like the enemy?
When we were kids, we used to say, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Because of incidents like these, I’ve changed my mind. Being called a “Jap” is like calling a black person a “Nigger.” Words do harm you and they have left scars that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Because of war hysteria, extreme racism & attacks on us, very few people stood up for us. Finally, on Feb. 19, 1942, even our Pres., Franklin D. Roosevelt was against us by signing E.0.9066, which ordered the Military to evacuate 120,000 Nisei & Issei from the W. Defense Command. This was done without due process, and, even though, no one was ever convicted of espionage, subversive activity or treason.
We were only allowed one suitcase per person, then the State Patrol came to take us to Everett to board a train to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp in Northern Calif. As we left Skykomish, the Germans & Italians that worked with my Father on the Great Northern Railroad, were waving goodbye to us. What I never really understood was, why was I, an American Citizen, waving goodbye to German & Italian, enemy aliens?
Now, I know that it was because they were White and we looked like the enemy. Who would think of putting Gen. Eisenhower into a concentration camp because he was of German ancestry or Mayor La Guardia of New York City, because he was of Italian ancestry?
We were placed in 10 Concentration Camps, located in the most desolate, hot and cold areas of our country. Our family of 6 were sent to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp in northern CA and housed in one room of a barrack, built with shiplap siding, a layer of tar paper, with no insulation and a lot of cracks, no running water or a bathroom. Not much protection from the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. If we had to go to the bathroom, shower or do laundry, we would have to bundle up and walk thru dirt & mud, to a central bathroom.
Some families slept in racetrack horse stalls, while the main camps were being built. I heard a story of a son, who told his father that these stalls had not been cleaned and it stunk of horse manure. The Father replied. “REMEMBER, SON. A LOT OF GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE.” Many years later, we will see how true this statement was.
After Pearl Harbor, we were classified 4C, enemy aliens, by the Selective Service, even though we were American Citizens, not being able to vote or serve our country in time of war.
In order to prove their loyalty, the Nisei, requested to serve in the U.S. Army, even though they were still imprisoned in these concentration camps, surrounded by barbed wire & guard towers, with the machine guns pointed inward. If anyone tried to escape, they were ordered to shoot.
In 1943, the U.S. War Dept. finally agreed to form the segregated Nisei 442nd RCT. 4500 Nisei from Hawaii and the mainland concentration camps, volunteered to prove their loyalty. In order to test their loyalty, they fought the Germans from N. Africa, to Italy, France & Germany. They emerged from the ashes of prejudice, suspicion and fear, to an almost unparalleled position of honor and bravery.
On Oct. 27, 1944, the 442nd RCT were ordered to rescue 265 Texans of the “Lost Bn,” 36th Div., who were surrounded by the Germans. They rescued the “Lost Bn1” with a staggering loss of 200 killed and 600 men wounded. The “Rescue of the Lost Bn” has been designated by the Pentagon as one of the 10 most famous battles in the history of the U.S. Military.
The 442nd, received 18,143 individual decorations, including 21 Congressional Medals of Honor and over 9,000 Purple Hearts. They became the most decorated unit, for its size and length of service, in the history of the U.S. Military.
Also, 6,000 Niseis served in the secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS) in the Pacific Theater during WW II. They participated in every major invasion landing of the Pacific Islands, such as Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Philippines and Okinawa. They are credited with shortening the Pacific War by 2 years and saving one million American lives by breaking enemy codes, translating Japanese documents and interrogating prisoners.
46 years later, we began to see GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE:
On Aug. 10, 1988, Pres. Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided redress and a letter of apology from the U.S. Government, for the injustice of putting 120,000 Issei & Nisei into these Concentration Camps. It takes a great nation to admit that they were wrong and I don’t know of any other country in the world that would have done this.
On June, 2000, Pres. Clinton, belatedly, presented CMOH Medals to 19 Nisei of the 442nd RCT because a Military Review Brd. determined that due to racism in the military during WW II, they were not awarded the MOH, even though they deserved it
On Nov. 9, 2000, A National Japanese American Monument to Patriotism was dedicated in Wash. D.C., in honor of the 800 Niseis that were KIA & to 33,000 Niseis that served in the Military during WW II & to 120,000 Issei & Nisei, who, in spite of the injustices committed, maintained their loyalty to the U.S. With this Monument Dedication, we have been able to carve a small niche in the history of our great nation.
On March 26, 2001, the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Seattle was named in honor of Pfc. William Nakamura, a belated MOH recipient from Seattle.
On Feb., 2002, the new Medical/Dental Center at Ft. Lewis, was named in honor of T/5 James Okubo, another one of the belated MOH recipients from Bellingham.
On Sept., 2002, my wife & I were able to take a tour of Italy on our 50th Anniversary. We were finally able to walk in the area of Mt. Belvedere, where Pfc. Tom Haji was killed and to pay our respects and say a silent prayer of thanks, for allowing us, to enjoy our lives and families today, because of the sacrifices of Tom and the Men of the 100th Bn/442nd RCT & the MIS.
Walking on this hallowed ground has given me a renewed dedication to continue the legacy of these men that fought and died here, so that future generations will know what sacrifices they made for us, so that we could hold our heads up high as Americans.
On Dec. 7, 2003, the above events were brought to a fitting closure, when the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association of Seattle invited our Nisei Veterans Committee to attend their Memorial Service to Honor the Dead & living Survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.
I was hesitant to attend, not knowing what the reception would be, but, to my amazement, we were greeted with open arms and they honored us, as special guests, during the service, with applause. I thought, Wow!!, if the Pearl Harbor Survivors were for us, who could be against us! We had finally come full circle, from Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 7, 2003.
‘THE FATHER THAT TOLD HIS SON THAT GOOD THINGS GROW FROM HORSE MANURE WAS RIGHT ON!”
We are all Human Beings, who want to Love & be Loved & who have the same concerns, fears, & hopes as everyone else. What happened to us is now history and justice has been served, so, what I would like to ask each one of you, is to never disrespect a person, because of the color of his skin, or what religion he believes in or what race he belongs to or what his sexual orientation is, because, if we do, we disrespect God & our Country & what they stand for.
We must remain united so that what happened to us will not happen to any other group. Especially to the Muslim Americans after Sept. 11.
After 62 years, I can finally say that I am proud to be an American and now I know how Rev. Martin Luther King felt, when he said, “FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, I’M FREE AT LAST!”
Mahalo & Arrivederci
Definition in Webster’s Dictionary: ” Concentration Camp: A camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined.”