Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Masudas: National civil liberties icons, Wintersburg Mission congregants

ABOVE: Mary Masuda with her brother, Mitsuo--who served in the U.S. Army--at their farm in Talbert (present-day Fountain Valley, California).  (Photo courtesy of Masao Masuda and Susan Shoho Uyehara, Japanese American Living Legacy/Nikkei Writers Guild) © All rights reserved.

*Update: May 2016 - Kazuo Masuda is one of twelve Nisei soldiers featured in the Smithsonian Institute's 2016 digital exhibit, The Nisei Soldier: Congressional Gold Medal, http://cgm.smithsonianapa.org/.  He was awarded posthumously both the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 and, more recently, the Congressional Gold Medal.  He is honored each year at the Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Memorial Day Service at Westminster Memorial Park, Orange County, California.


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   The story of the Masuda family should be told each generation, and taught in every high school history and civics class.  Their family's plight influenced the nation's perception and understanding of Japanese Americans in 1945 and continues to educate today's generation.  

   In a remarkable moment of personal history, the Masudas were remembered by an American president when he signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

   The Masudas--a family of thirteen--were congregants at the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Church.  They traveled back and forth from their farm in Talbert (present-day Fountain Valley) to attend services and socialize with Japanese from around Orange County who gathered in Wintersburg.  Most of the Masuda children attended high school at Huntington Beach High School, participating in school activities and sports, including the high school's "Oilers" football team.

RIGHT: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, holding a section of the front lines near St. Die Area, France, 13 November 1944.  Kazuo Masuda was killed in action in Italy, defending fellow soldiers at the crossing of the Arno River, August, 1944.(WikiCommons)

Go For Broke
  Brothers Kazuo and Takashi Masuda were drafted into the army in October, 1941, and in basic training when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Later, brothers Mitsuo and Masao entered the U.S. military, making a total of four Masuda brothers serving during World War II.

   After basic training, both Kazuo and Takashi were assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team--known for their regimental slogan, "Go For Broke"--one of the most highly decorated units in military history.

  Kazuo Masuda was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.  At the landing of Anzio, Italy, his squad was the only group to remain on the beach throughout the battle.  Kazuo continued to distinguish himself as the 442nd moved through Italy.

LEFT:Kazuo Masuda is recognized on the military service memorial at Huntington Beach, California, City Hall.  (Photo, May 2012) © All rights reserved.
     
   Kazuo was awarded posthumously in 1945 the Distinguished Service Cross "for extraordinary heroism in action...On 6 July, 1944, while his advanced observation post was the target of heavy mortar and artillery barrages, Staff Sergeant Masuda crawled 200 yards to the mortar section, secured a mortar tube and ammunition, and returned to the observation post.  

   Using his helmet as a base plate, Staff Sergeant Masuda single-handedly directed effective fire upon the enemy for 12 hours, inflicting heavy casualties and repulsing two major enemy counter-attacks.

   On 27 August, 1944, Staff Sergeant Masuda voluntarily led two men on a night patrol across the Arno river and through the heavily-mined and booby-trapped north bank.  Hearing movements to his right he ordered his men to cover him while he crawled forward and discovered that a strong enemy force had surrounded them.  

   Realizing that he was trapped, he ordered his men to withdraw while he boldly engaged two enemy automatic weapons.  At the sacrifice of his life, he enabled his comrades to escape with valuable information which materially aided the successful crossing of the Arno river."


LEFT: Kazuo Masuda, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945. (Photo, www.the442nd.org)


A father imprisoned, a family interned
   On the night of Dec. 7, 1941--while Kazuo was stationed at Ft. Ord, California, beginning his Army training--his father, Gensuke, was taken by the sheriff from his farm in Talbert to the Orange County jail, then to Fort Missoula, Montana.  The family was evacuated to the Jerome Relocation Center in Drew and Chicot counties, Arkansas.

RIGHT: Kazuo Masuda (sixth from left) on furlough, visiting his family in the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. (Photo, War Relocation Authority archive) © All rights reserved.

  The the442nd.org reports Kazuo wrote authorities in February 1942, "The reason for his arrest is unknown to him, his family and friends.  About 10 days later, after being questioned by F.B.I. agents, he was transferred to Fort Missoula, Montana, where he is now interned.
 
     I cannot believe that my father has done any act of disloyalty towards the United States.  He has been a resident of this country for over 40 years...He has been a farmer for over 35 years...

     In all the 23 years I have lived with my father, he has never uttered a single word against the United States.  He has always considered this nation his country, and I believe he has done his part in making it the great nation that we are.  He did not, as so many others have done, send any of his children to Japan for any part of their education.  He wanted his children to be Americans....

     I believe sincerely that his arrest and his subsequent imprisonment and internment was based on mistaken facts..."
   
   After Gensuke was released from Fort Missoula, the Masudas were sent to the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona in 1944,  until 1945.

LEFT: Abraham Ohama (left), Kazuo Masuda (center) and Zentaro George Akiyama (right)--all members of the 442nd Company F--visiting the Poston, Arizona Relocation Center.  Akiyama lost his life to friendly fire in July 1944, one month before Kazuo Masuda was killed in Italy.  Ohama was killed in France two months later in October, 1944, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.  (Photo, California State University - Sacramento Library) © All rights reserved.

Returning home to Orange County
   Mary Masuda was granted leave from the Gila River confinement camp to travel to Orange County and check on the family farm in Talbert, before the family returned home in 1945.   Upon arrival in Orange County, Mary was threatened by men claiming association with the Native Sons of the Golden West.  Mary was told not to return to Orange County, that she, her family, and other Japanese were not welcome.  

   She had already lost her brother.  Summoning uncommon strength, Mary did not back down from the repeated threats.  She told the men her brothers were fighting for their freedom in the U.S. Army.  As the threats against the Masuda family became known--along with their family's service and sacrifice--national sentiment was in their support.


    The War Relocation Authority (WRA) took action.  A Washington news bulletin reported at the time, that the WRA "took steps to end threats against an American girl of Japanese ancestry who has four brothers with honorable army service records.  

   The WRA announced it is prepared to turn over to law enforcement officials the names of five men who have threatened Mary Masuda of Talbert, Orange County, California, with bodily harm unless she moves out of the county in which she resides with the Caucasian Family named Trudeau." 

LEFT: Mary Fumi Masuda, after the war, at home in Talbert. (Photo courtesy of Masao Masuda and Susan Shoho Uyehara, Japanese American Living Legacy/Nikkei Writers Guild) © All rights reserved.

   Hearing of the incident,  General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell arranged a personal honor for the Masudas.  On Dec. 9, 1945, on the front porch of their farmhouse in Talbert, Gen. Stillwell presented Mary Masuda with the Distinguished Service Cross in honor of her brother, SSgt. Kazuo Masuda.  Mary, in turn, pinned the medal on her mother.

   Gen. Stillwell later spoke at a rally in honor of Kazuo Masuda at the Santa Ana Municipal Bowl (now Eddie West Field at 6th and Flower Streets in Santa Ana), "The Nisei bought an awful big hunk of America with their blood.  Those Nisei boys have a place in the American heart, now and forever.  We cannot allow a single injustice to be done to the Nisei without defeating the purpose for which we fought...Who, after all is a real American?  The real American is the man who calls it a fair exchange to lay down his life in order that American ideals may go on living.  And judging by such a test, Sergeant Masuda was a better American than any of us here today..."

LEFT: General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell. (Photo courtesy of Masao Masuda and Susan Shoho Uyehara, Japanese American Living Legacy/Nikkei Writers Guild) © All rights reserved.

   Then Army Captain and future president of the United States Ronald Reagan also spoke at the rally, "Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color.  America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way--an ideal.  Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world.  That is the American way.  Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, just as one member of the family of Americans speaking to another member, I want to say for what your son Kazuo did, thanks!"

RIGHT: Gen. Joseph Stilwell pins the Distinguished Service Cross on Mary Masuda for her late brother, Kazuo Masuda, on the front porch of the Masuda family's Newhope Street farmhouse in Talbert on Dec. 9, 1945.  (Photo courtesy of Masao Masuda and Susan Shoho Uyehara, Japanese American Living Legacy/Nikkei Writers Guild) © All rights reserved.

A hero's return
   By November 1948, Kazuo Masuda's body was returned home from Italy.  His funeral services were held in the Wintersburg Japanese Church, which had reopened in 1945 after being shuttered during the World War II incarceration of the clergy and congregation.

   When the family approached the Westminster Memorial Cemetery to make burial arrangements, they were told Kazuo could not be buried in a desired location, with trees and grass.  The cemetery manager told them "restrictive covenants" barred persons who were not of Caucasian ancestry.  

   Once again, the Army and general public came to the Masudas' defense and the cemetery reversed its decision.  The Westminster grave site of SSgt. Kazuo Masuda is today, in a prime location and the site of an annual Memorial Day tribute by the Kazuo Masuda Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 3670.  Fountain Valley (formerly Talbert) named the Kazuo Masuda Middle School in honor of the SSgt. Masuda.

LEFT: Masao Masuda, holding a photograph of his brother, Kazuo, at his grave site in Westminster Memorial Cemetery.  Both received the Congressional Medal of Honor in November 2011.  Masao still resides in Fountain Valley, (formerly Talbert) California, and still attends Wintersburg Presbyterian Church.  (Photograph, Orange County Register)

President Ronald Reagan remembers the Masudas
   
   At the signing ceremony for H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Aug. 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan (photograph below left as a young Army captain) remembered the Masuda family:

"And now in closing, I wonder whether you'd permit me one personal reminiscence -- one prompted by an old newspaper report sent to me by Rose Ochi, a former internee. The clipping comes from “The Pacific Citizen” and is dated December 1945.
    
   'Arriving by plane from Washington,' the article begins, 'General Joseph W. Stilwell pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on Mary Masuda in a simple ceremony on the porch of her small frame shack near Talbert, Orange County. She was one of the first Americans of Japanese ancestry to return from relocation centers to California's farmlands.'

   Vinegar Joe Stilwell was there that day to honor Kazuo Masuda, Mary's brother. You see, while Mary and her parents were in an internment camp, Kazuo served as staff sergeant to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In one action, Kazuo ordered his men back and advanced through heavy fire, hauling a mortar. For 12 hours, he engaged in a single-handed barrage of Nazi positions. Several weeks later at Cassino, Kazuo staged another lone advance. This time, it cost him his life. 

RIGHT: Future U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, an Army captain when he visited with the Masuda family in 1945.

   The newspaper clipping notes that her two surviving brothers were with Mary and her parents on the little porch that morning. These two brothers -- like the heroic Kazuo -- had served in the United States Army. After General Stilwell made the award, the motion picture actress Louisa Albritten -- a Texas girl -- told how a Texas battalion had been saved by the 442nd. 

   Other show business personalities paid tribute -- Robert Young, Will Rogers, Jr., and one young actor said: 'Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way -- an ideal. Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.'

   The name of that young actor -- I hope I pronounce this right -- was Ronald Reagan. And, yes, the ideal of liberty and justice for all -- that is still the American way...Thank you all again, and God bless you all.  I think this is a fine day." 

President Ronald Reagan signing H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, on August 10, 1988.

Epilogue: A kindness remembered
   In March 2012, California State University-Fullerton Professor Emeritus and former senior historian for the Japanese American National Museum Arthur A. Hansen browsed a used book store in Orange, California.  He found a 1969 hard copy of the late author Bill Hosokawa's book, Nisei: The Quiet Americans.  

   Inside the book, he discovered two inscriptions: a note from Bill Hosokawa dated March 31, 1970, and datelined "Denver,"  and headed "For Mrs. Joseph Stilwell, with my best wishes and deepest appreciation;"  the other note, dated May 1, 1970, "For Mrs. Joseph Stilwell, an extraordinary woman and my personal and inspirational friend, Gratefully yours, Mary Fumi Masuda."


Editor's Note: Readers can learn more about Orange County's Masudas and view more photographs in From the Battlefields to the Home Front: The Kazuo Masuda Legacy, published in 2009 by the Nikkei Writers Guild, a division of Japanese American Living Legacy.  The book is narrated by Masao Masuda and is written by Russell K. Shoho.  More information at http://www.jalivinglegacy.org/main.cfm?stg=nwg

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The Historic Wintersburg blog focuses on an overlooked history in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, in the interest of saving a historic property from demolition. The author and publisher reserves the right not to publish comments. Please no promotional or political commentary. Zero tolerance for hate rhetoric. Comments with embedded commercial / advertising links or promoting other projects, books, or publications may not be published. If you have an interesting anecdote, question or comment about one of our features, it will be published.