FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Dr. James C. McNaughton, nationally recognized authority on Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II, was the principal speaker at the Japanese American Veterans Association quarterly lunch on Oct. 3 at the Harvest Moon Restaurant in Falls Church, Va.
In 2007, McNaughton published his 514-page book, “Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence During World War II,” the most comprehensive, documented history of the MIS.
He was also chair of the Army research team tasked with identifying Asian Pacific American recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross recipients for re-evaluation for the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2000, 22 APAs who served in World War II, including 20 Japanese Americans, received the Medal of Honor.
McNaughton’s presentation to JAVA members and friends focused on the extraordinary acts of patriotism and courage of one particular soldier, Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori:
“On April 5, 1945, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team led the Fifth Army attack to breach the westernmost end of the German Gothic line across northern Italy. In the first minutes of the dawn attack, a grenade, thrown by the enemy, bounced off the helmet of Pfc. Munemori and he dove on it to shield two comrades. The blast killed him instantly, but his buddies survived. For this act of valor, the War Department awarded him the Medal of Honor, making him the first American of Japanese ancestry to receive the nation’s highest honor.
“This much appears in most histories of the 442nd RCT, but it is unfortunate that more of Munemori’s personal story is not better known. It tells much about courage and loyalty, at home and on the battlefield. But it also tells us much about the historical experience of the Nisei generation.
“Munemori was born in 1922 in Glendale, Calif., the fourth of five children of Japanese immigrants. For a time he traveled to Japan and thus was considered a Kibei. He graduated from high school in 1940. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Munemori’s response was to volunteer for the U.S. Army. He enlisted on Feb. 11, 1942, at Fort MacArthur, Calif. The Army sent him to Camp Grant, Ill., but sent his family to Manzanar.
“Soon he was selected for language training at Camp Savage, Minn. However, when the War Department announced in January 1943 the activation of the 442nd RCT, he requested a transfer to this Nisei infantry unit, preferring serving in combat to being a translator. Little did he know then that some Nisei in the MIS would also serve in combat.
“School officials initially refused his request and assigned him extra duties shoveling coal and pulling kitchen police, where he was said to have earned the nickname ‘Spud’ Munemori. He preferred potato to rice. However, his persistence paid off. In January 1944, he joined the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby, Miss., although to do so he had to accept a reduction in rank from technical sergeant to private.
“Soon he was sent as an individual replacement to the 100th Infantry Battalion, then fighting at Anzio, a few months before the rest of the 442nd RCT arrived. By all reports, the Hawaiian Nisei of the 100th readily accepted him, despite his being from the mainland. He fought with A Company, 100th Battalion, in the Rome-Arno Campaign, and then in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France.
“In March 1945, the 442nd RCT returned to Italy, where Munemori met his fate only weeks before the German surrender. America gained a great victory, but at a terrible cost. If he had lived, he would have turned 90 years old this year. We should consider what America might have gained if he had survived the war. He might have become a great teacher or a successful businessman, a doctor or lawyer.
“But we should also be grateful for his legacy of commitment to his country, courage, loyalty, and selfless service. He chose to serve his country and to remain loyal to his buddies. He left it for us to carry on building the great country he loved and to live lives of commitment to our shared ideals.
“We should never forget the lessons in patriotism and courage that Sadao S. Munemori left as an example for all Americans.”
Munemori’s act of courage has been recognized in other ways as well since World War II.
– In 1948, the 10,000-ton troop ship Wilson Victory, which brought back the 442nd from Italy two years earlier, was renamed the Pvt. Sadao S. Munemori.
– The interchange of the 105 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles bears a sign reading, “Sadao S. Munemori Memorial Interchange, Medal of Honor—World War II.”
– In 1993, the Army dedicated a building to Munemori at the West Los Angeles Army Reserve Training Center.
– In the town of Pietrasanta, Italy, spearheaded by Americo Bugliani, a JAVA member, a statue of Munemori was dedicated on April 25, 2000, in honor of the Americans who liberated Italy.
Through his personal sacrifice, Munemori was the first Japanese American to be recognized as a loyal citizen with America’s highest military honor and today continues to serve among all Asian Americans as an example of conspicuous courage and patriotism.
Another highlight of the luncheon was the recognition of Kaitlin Inamasu, a student of George Washington University, for pioneering the effort to make the National Archives digitized documents more easily discoverable on the Internet and for recruiting a top-notch team who completed nearly 6,000 database records in about six months. Their effort will enable researchers to retrieve documentary information on the 100th, 442nd, and MIS electronically from anywhere in the world using keywords, dates and names.