Saturday, March 5, 2016

Stamp Our Story: A ten-year effort to gain recognition of the Nisei veterans of WWII

   Stamp Our Story is an effort to gain a United States commemorative postage stamp honoring the service and contributions of the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.  This has been a decade-long campaign.

   Japanese American World War II veterans are among the most highly-decorated military groups in American history. Over 33,000 served during World War II.  Over 18,000 medals. Over 9000 Purple Hearts. Thirty Distinguished Service Crosses. Twenty-one Medals of Honor. 

   These men served in the "Go For Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, who---as is now known---helped liberate Dachau.  They served during a time when their families were incarcerated in camps and detention stations around the United States, due to their ancestry.

   Among those who would be honored, are veterans in Orange County and veterans associated with the Wintersburg Mission, for which there are Medal of Honor recipients and nominees.  

LEFT: Wintersburg Mission congregant, Huntington Beach High School alumni and son of Talbert (Fountain Valley) farmers, Kazuo Masuda with the
442nd Regimental Combat Team (fourth from left, front row). Photograph courtesy of

   The associated history with Historic Wintersburg also includes a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, presented posthumously to the family of Kazuo Masuda at a farmhouse in Talbert by General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell with then-Army Captain Ronald Reagan.  This moment in American history was remembered by President Ronald Reagan when he signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, with Masuda family members and Wintersburg Mission congregant Clarence Nishizu present at the signing.

LEFT: Kazuo Masuda Memorial Day ceremony, 2015, at Westminster Memorial Park.  He is honored locally with a VFW Post, a school named after him, and on memorials in front of Huntington Beach City Hall and in the historic auditorium at Huntington Beach High School.  Kazuo Masuda was killed in action in Italy during WWII. (Photograph, M. Urashima, 2015). © All rights reserved.

   Not many of the Nisei veterans of World War II will see this stamp.  The effort to gain this recognition over the past decade has seen the loss of many of these veterans.  But, their families can finally see a stamp honoring their contribution and sacrifice.

   Among the United States Postal Service stamps, there are stamps recognizing civil rights history and leadership, stamps recognizing heritage months, stamps recognizing American Samoa, and Hawaiian icons like Duke Kahanamoku.  There are stamps celebrating the Lunar New Year.  Try a Google search for U.S. postal stamps for Japanese Americans and the search comes up with one collection issued in 2004 for artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

RIGHT: U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamps issued in 2004 for sculptor, landscape architect, and theatrical and industrial designer, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988).  The "California Scenario" sculpture plaza in Costa Mesa was designed by Noguchi.  What is less known is that Noguchi--who was biracial--wrote directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt prior to the authorization of Executive Order 9066, asking him not to violate the civil rights of American citizens of Japanese descent.  Noguchi was an anti-fascist advocate and---although not legally required---voluntarily went to the Colorado River Relocation Center in hopes of teaching art to those in confinement. (Source, U.S. Postal Service)

   With the arrival in American a century and a half ago, there still are no stamps honoring the larger history of Americans of Japanese descent, let alone the Nisei veterans. 

LEFT: Japanese American pioneer farmers on the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, California, circa 1920s.  The first Japanese arrived on the West Coast in the mid 19th Century---at the time of the California Gold Rush---and in rural Orange County by 1900. (Snip courtesy of California State University-Fullerton Center for Oral and Public History) © All rights reserved.

There are stamps honoring other American pioneer history---those who crossed the country by wagon---but no stamps recognizing those who crossed the Pacific Ocean with the rich history and imagery of Japanese American pioneer settlement of the American West.  

   There are stamps rightfully honoring African American "Buffalo Soldiers" of the U.S. Cavalry, but not the "Go For Broke" soldiers of the U.S. Army.  Stamps honor the civil rights movement in the southern part of America and civil rights leaders, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.  There are no civil rights stamps with the faces of Japanese Americans---like Todd Endo, who marched at Selma, Alabama's Bloody Sunday in 1965---yet Japanese Americans also have a civil rights story on the West Coast.   

   There are no stamps honoring those who fought and overturned the Alien Land Laws faced by Japanese American pioneers in the 20th Century, such as California attorney and journalist Sei Fujii.  There are no stamps honoring the resilience and gaman of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who lost their civil rights and were unjustly incarcerated during WWII.  There are no stamps for those who stood for Japanese American civil rights during that time, like Gordon Hirabayashi or Fred Korematsu.  There is no stamp for the Civil Rights Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan.

RIGHT: The guard watch tower at Manzanar National Historic Site in California's Owens Valley.  Manzanar was one of the ten major incarceration camps for 120,000 Japanese Americans, the majority United States citizens. (Photograph, M. Urashima, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   There is no stamp for Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese American astronaut, who lost his life on board the Space Shuttle Challenger.  There is no stamp for the first Japanese American congressional representative, Daniel Inouye.  There is no stamp for the first Japanese American mayor of a U.S. city in 1957, James Kanno, a Wintersburg Mission congregant and Fountain Valley, California's first mayor.

   With no stamps honoring the pioneer settlement, civil rights and achievements of Japanese Americans, there is, of course, no stamp for the few remaining Japanese American historic places that survived the past century.  There is no stamp for the iconic Little Tokyo, the Harada House, or for the early 1900s goldfish farms of Wintersburg Village.

   A stamp honoring the Nisei veterans of World War II is a step toward including the history of Americans of Japanese descent in the larger story of America.  As Stamp Our Story explains that while "it is just a tiny rectangular piece of paper" it is "huge in its impact.  It will be preserved and remembered as an iconic image which will last through the ages...We believe that if the Postal Service can churn out multiple stamps for fictional cartoon and movie characters, it can issue at least ONE stamp for these real American heroes."

   One hundred thousand signatures are needed by March 20 to get a petition requesting a stamp honoring Nisei veterans on the President's desk.  It takes only a moment to honor those who put their lives at risk in defense of America, while their families were confined.

Go to for more information.  

The online petition can be found and signed in a few seconds at

Publication 528 of the U.S. Postal Service shares the current stamps relating to "Veterans and the Military on Stamps",

More about Kazuo Masuda, President Ronald Reagan and the Masuda family story at 

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.

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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.