Nisei Soldier Stamp Design Features Hawaii Veteran

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From left: Veterans Chilly Sasaki (Antitank), Whitey Yamamoto (Antitank), and Yoshinobu Oshiro (MIS) in 2011. (Photo by Shari Tamashiro)

New stamps to be issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2021 will include one dedicated to the Japanese American soldiers of World War II.

The result of lobbying by the Stamp Our Story campaign and several community organizations, the stamp “recognizes the contributions of Japanese American soldiers, some 33,000 altogether, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II” in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and other units, the USPS said.

The design is based on a wartime photograph, and Shari Tamashiro posted on Facebook the back story of the soldier depicted in the stamp:

“OMG! OMG! OMG! The United States Postal Service announced that they will be releasing a 2021 commemorative stamp honoring the Japanese Americans who fought during WWII!! These ‘Go For Broke’ stamps have been something the community has been lobbying to have for over 15 years.

“WANNA KNOW WHY I AM SHOUTING AND DANCING AROUND LIKE A LOON? I provided the photograph of Whitey Yamamoto (1923-2018) that this stamp design is based on!!!

“Some time ago I was contacted by a company contracted by the USPS to track down photos and they really loved this shot of Shiroku Whitey Yamamoto they spotted on the Hawaii Nisei Story site and asked me for help getting permission to use it and for copies of it. It took a lot of time with a lot of back-and-forth emails and phone calls.

“I get contacted a lot by organizations who are looking for photos of the WWII Nisei because I have a lot of digitized photos collected over the years. I quietly help museums build exhibits, TV shows tell stories of the Nisei, and scholars with their research but THIS ONE MAKES ME SO INCANDESCENTLY HAPPY!!

Whitey Yamamoto

“Whitey Yamamoto was the first story I got to tell for the Hawaii Nisei Story. Because I used his story to build the prototype for the entire site, I spent a significant amount of time analyzing, reading and re-reading his oral history transcript, going over his photo albums and researching to provide context to his personal story. I knew his life story really well, without having ever met him in real life. When I did meet him, I think I freaked him out because I knew too much about his life.

“Whitey is not one of the ‘famous’ WWII Nisei but he has a special place in my heart. And I am crying with joy because Whitey is now representing all of the quiet, humble, and courageous heroes who served their country despite that country locking up 120,000+ people like them for years just because of their ancestry, not because of any individual action.

“And I got to play a small role in Whitey being honored in this way … This made my YEAR! I am really looking forward to buying a ton of Whitey’s stamp in 2021!!”

Tamashiro said that Yamamoto got his nickname because “Shiro” can be translated as “white.”

One Soldier’s Story

Yamamoto, who grew up on the Big Island, was among the students asked to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to assist the military after the Pearl Harbor attack. He and fellow corpsmen helped build Saddle Road, cutting through lava rock fields from Kona to Hilo.

In March 1943, Yamamoto volunteered for the 442nd and was assigned to Schofield Barracks on Oahu before leaving for basic training on the mainland. At Camp Shelby in Mississippi, he was selected for the Antitank Company and assigned to be a jeep driver. He was part of a group that transported German POWs to peanut farms in Georgia and Alabama.

He learned that Sadami Yada, a neighbor from Hawaii, was in the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. He visited Yada and her family there and found it to be a sobering experience.

The 100th was deployed to Europe while the 442nd remained behind for further training. In May 1944, the 442nd was deployed to Europe and landed in Naples, where they were assigned to the 5th Army and attached to the 34th Red Bull Division. The 442nd joined the 100th in Civitavecchia.

As a jeep driver, Yamamoto was involved with reconnaissance. He helped determine the placement of antitank guns for each platoon. He also delivered mail and hot meals to men in the battlefield.

The Antitank Company was detached from the 442nd and trained to be glider infantry. After two weeks of tactical glider training near Rome, they participated in the D-Day invasion of southern France. Operation Dragoon commences on Aug. 15, 1944. With paratroopers securing fields for landing, 44 gliders make the dangerous attempt to land. Their mission: hold the area until seaborne troops relieve them.

In October 1944, the Antitank Company rejoined the 442nd in Bruyeres, France. The 442nd was ordered to rescue the “Lost Battalion” of Texas. Yamamoto, assigned to Headquarters Platoon, witnessed the leadership of Maj. Gen. John Dahlquist, which resulted in a rescue overshadowed by losses. The dead and wounded outnumbered the living: 211 men were rescued, 216 Nisei soldiers are killed and more than 856 were wounded.

After the decimation in the Vosges Mountains, the 442nd was sent to southern France. Through his interest in photography, Yamamoto developed a close friendship with a French family, the Millos. In Menton, he documented the capture of a small German submarine.

On March 20, 1945, the 100th/442nd left for Italy and joined the 5th Army. They were assigned to the 92nd Division, an all-African American infantry division. Their assignment: break open the Gothic Line by sneaking behind the enemy line.

The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945. In Italy, the 442nd was assigned the task of guarding German prisoners. In January 1946, Yamamoto was discharged as a private first class.

When Yamamoto returned to Honolulu, his foster father was principal at Leilehua High School on Oahu. Rather than going back to the island of Hawaii, he enrolled at Leilehua and graduated in June 1946.

Through the GI Bill, Yamamoto went to Stout Institute, an industrial arts school in Wisconsin. He studied to be a teacher but changed his mind and attended a watchmaking school in Albany, Mo. and then a jewelry manufacturing school in Newcastle, Penn.

Yamamoto returned to Hawaii and married his wife Amy, a Laupahoehoe schoolmate, He worked as an aircraft instrument technician at Hickam Airfield. He later joined Lockheed Aircraft Company, and after that facility closed, accepted a position at Aloha Airlines, where he retired 22 years later.

Biographical material from http://nisei.hawaii.edu/page/whitey. Visit website for Yamamoto’s oral history and more photos.

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