By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Iwao Peter Sano, author of “One Thousand Days in Siberia: The Odyssey of a Japanese American POW,” passed away on April 8. He was 93.
In his book, Sano chronicled his life as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Japan who was conscripted into the Japanese military during World War II and was captured as a Russian prisoner of war.
Sano was born in Brawley, Imperial County, the fifth of eight children of Ichizo and Tsuta Suzuki Sano. At the time of his birth, his parents ran a dairy farm in the Imperial Valley.
At the age of 15, he was sent to Japan as an adopted son, a youshi, for his maternal uncle and aunt, who were childless. He thus became Iwao Suzuki to carry on the Suzuki family lineage.
In March 1945, he received his draft notice from the Japanese military and made his way to Tokyo. He was transferred from Tokyo on March 7, missing, by a few days, the intense U.S. carpet-bombing of Tokyo that started on the night of March 9 and lasted into March 10, resulting in an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths.
After basic training, he was stationed in Manchuria. His unit was up in the mountains in Hailar, near the border of the Soviet Union, when Japan surrendered in August 1945, ending the war.
Sano’s unit, however, was overtaken by the Russians, and his unit was shipped to Siberia, where Sano would be a prisoner of war for nearly three years. Sano wrote about the days of hunger and surviving sub-zero temperatures in his book.
Sano was released in 1948. Upon his return to Japan, he decided to withdraw his status in the Suzuki family and returned to the U.S.
When he was reunited with his biological family in the U.S., he learned that his father had been picked up by the FBI at the outbreak of World War II and shipped to the Department of Justice camp in Bismarck, N.D. The rest of the Sano family had spent the war years in the Poston (Colorado River) War Relocation Authority camp in Arizona.
Sano, who lived in Palo Alto, is survived by his wife, Minako; son, Stephen; daughter, Mary; and two grandchildren.