An emotional tribute to a soldier of the Military Intelligence Service was held as the city of Artesia hosted a Veteran’s Day event, “Above and Beyond” last Saturday, at Artesia Park. At the event, Rep. Linda Sanchez presented medals posthumously to Yoneto James Nakata, a soldier with the Military Intelligence Service.
During World War II, Nakata joined the MIS and was sent to the Philippine Islands as a translator. He passed away in 1948 at 29 years old. His daughter, Mary Nakata Sunada, who was just six months old when he died, was emotional as she accepted his medals. Among the citations he received: the Presidential Unit Citation, the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman badge.
“(My father) was a courageous, proud, compassionate, loyal, determined, patriotic and honorable man who kept his faith in America,” she said. “I stand here to accept these medals on behalf of my dad, my forgotten hero who has left a legacy that my family, especially my sons can be so very proud.”
Nakata Sunada always assumed her stepfather was her dad, until her mother told her of Yoneto many years later. In a letter to Rep. Sanchez’ office, she detailed her decades-long search for her dad.
“My mom did not tell me much about my father until much later when I married. My mom then gave me all his military documents, photos, an address book and an old Japanese-English dictionary,” she said. “Inside the book was a signature, Yoneto James Nakata, 1943. Over the years, I became involved with my family, raising two boys and with my career as a teacher.
“After researching family records, I realized that my father had no siblings and I was his only child. I made a vow to keep his memory alive. I never forgot my father, in fact I named my eldest son, James in his honor and now I can see in my son a strong resemblance to my dad.”
Nakata went through Fresno County Library census records and conducted interviews with her dad’s friends. Through that she was able to piece together details of her father, unknown for so many years.
He was born to Japanese immigrants who worked as tenant farmers outside of Fresno.
His parents returned with him to Japan in 1924 where he lived for 11 years getting a high school education. After his parents died, he returned to America when he was 17 years old. He lived and worked in Gardena as a nursery worker until 1941.
In 1941, Nakata was drafted into the US Army but when war broke out in December of 1941, the Army shipped him to be a hospital orderly in Arkansas. It was in Arkansas that he visited his relatives who were incarcerated in a relocation camp near by. He wanted to do something to get them get out of camp. He volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service, a top secret unit of translators and interpreters made up of Japanese American soldiers fluent in the Japanese language. He prepared himself by buying a Japanese American dictionary. The Army needed more translators and he was selected in 1944 but this was just the beginning. He went to language school at Fort Snelling, Minn. for 9 months of college level classes where there was a drop out rate was 25 percent.
After graduating, he was quickly sent to the Philippine Islands where he saw combat. The Philippines was an especially dangerous location because he was in constant danger of being mistaken for the enemy by his own soldiers and the Filipino population and thus was assigned a white soldier has his body guard. The Japanese soldiers also would shoot him on sight.
But he continued to do his duty by translating captured documents and coaxing the enemy into surrendering.
“My quest to know my father has taken me nearly 30 years but by searching his military history, I finally got to know him,” his daughter said.