HONOLULU — Harry K. Fukuhara, a noted veteran of the Military Intelligence Service and long-time resident of San Jose, passed away on April 8 at Hi’olani Care Center at Kahala Nui, Honolulu. He was 95.
Born in Seattle on Jan. 1, 1920, he and his siblings were taken to Hiroshima by his mother after the death of his father in 1933. He graduated from Sanyo Commercial School in 1938 and returned to the U.S., graduating from Glendale Junior College in 1941. With the outbreak of war with Japan, he and his family were interned at the Gila River camp in Arizona.
Enlisting in the Army from camp in November 1942, Fukuhara joined the MIS and was trained with other Nisei linguists at Camp Savage in Minnesota. He was immediately assigned to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Between May 1943 and the end of World War II in August 1945, he served as an interpreter, translator and interrogator while working in support of Allied intelligence teams made up of Australians, Dutch and American military personnel.
Fukuhara served as a language team chief throughout much of this period and his team was recognized for significant contributions to the Allied intelligence effort in the Southwest Pacific region, including New Guinea and the Philippines. Much of his team’s success in the interrogation of POWs can be attributed to Fukuhara’s determined effort to convince American commanders of the value of capturing Japanese soldiers for intelligence purposes. Although Japanese soldiers were fierce warriors, willing to fight to the end, they were not as well prepared to resist skillful interrogation.
As a result of his accomplishments in the field, Fukuhara was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters and was promoted up through the ranks to master sergeant. In August 1945, he received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant.
Toward the end of the war, he was part of the force preparing to invade Kyushu, not knowing that one of his brothers had been drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army and was preparing to defend Kyushu. Because of the dropping of the atomic bombs, the invasion never happened, but it was a difficult time for Fukuhara as he had family in Hiroshima.
When the war ended, he was sent to POW camps to inform the prisoners about the A-bombs and the emperor’s surrender. While serving with the occupation forces in Japan, he was able to visit Hiroshima and found that his mother and aunt had survived the bombing. However, his older brother was suffering from radiation sickness and died shortly thereafter.
From September 1945 to February 1946, Fukuhara participated in the disarmament and deactivation of the Japanese armed forces. He also served as a liaison officer between the U.S. military government and local Japanese government officials.
After a one-year break in service, Fukuhara returned to active duty in February 1947, attending the Counterintelligence Corps Basic Course at Ft. Holabird in Maryland prior to his assignment to the 441st Counterintelligence Corps Detachment in Japan in September of that year. From 1949 to 1966, Fukuhara served in a number of Army counterintelligence positions within Japan and the U.S. and conducted bilateral liaison with Japan for the U.S.
He was extremely successful in several different types of sensitive operations, providing critical intelligence in support of U.S. troops during the early Cold War period, the Korean War and the U.S. buildup in Vietnam.
Fukuhara was a key figure in the Japan-based collection operations that the Army mounted between 1967 and 1970 in support of U.S. forces fighting in Indochina. He was responsible for collecting information that aided the Army’s senior leaders and national policymakers in assessing the war-making potential and military objectives of the North Vietnamese Army and their Viet Cong allies. In 1969, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.
In 1970, Fukuhara was appointed military governor of the Yaeyama Islands of the Ryukyu chain. Serving until his retirement from active duty in 1971, he was instrumental in the rebuilding of the islands’ infrastructure and materially improving the quality of life and morale of his constituents. His efforts directly contributed to better U.S.-Japan relations during the crucial period when U.S.-administered territory in the Ryukyus was returned to Japanese control.
The capstone of Fukuhara’s career, his 18-year assignment as chief of 500th Military Intelligence Brigade’s Foreign Liaison Detachment, began in July 1972 when he returned once more to Japan as a Department of the Army civilian. The record of his detachment in carrying out both routine and extraordinary requirements over many years is widely known and admired throughout the U.S. intelligence community.
Furthermore, Fukuhara’s unique personal abilities in the conduct of high-level liaison work and his unparalleled network of contacts often made him a vital source of information. Besides supporting the mission of the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade and its predecessors, his skills and contacts were called upon by countless officials and decision-makers at the theater and national levels. He was also a key figure in the negotiation of several bilateral agreements.
His military decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Honors for his contributions to the national intelligence effort include the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, presented in 1987 by the director of the CIA; the Department of Army Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, presented in 1987 by the secretary of the Army; and the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civil Service, signed by President George H.W. Bush and presented in 1990.
Also in 1990, the emperor of Japan authorized the awarding to Fukuhara of the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class, signed by the prime minister and presented by the chief of staff of the Japan Ground Defense Forces. Fukuhara received approximately 15 certificates of appreciation/commendation and outstanding performance awards from U.S. military offices as well as approximately 20 certificates of commendation/appreciation from various Japanese civilian and military government offices.
After retiring from a total of 48 years in active military and civil service for the Army, he supported many organizations in the Japanese American community, including JACL, MIS NorCal, and National Japanese American Historical Society. He was recognized for his career contributions with induction into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1988 and was given the title of Distinguished Member of the Military Intelligence Corps in 1993.
He is featured in such documentaries as Loni Ding’s “The Color of Honor: The Japanese American Soldier in World War II” and Junichi Suzuki’s “MIS: Human Secret Weapon.”
Beloved husband of the late Teruko “Terry” Fukuhara, he is survived by his children Shary (Jim) Fukuhara-Hashimoto, Mark (Mona) Fukuhara, Brian P. Fukuhara, and Pam (Wray) Tsuzaki; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, May 9, at 11 a.m. at the Willow Glen Funeral Chapel, 1039 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. After the service, a reception and celebration of life will be held at Ocean Delight, 5400 Monterey Rd., San Jose. For further information, contact Brian P. Fukuhara at [email protected] or (408) 859-2957.
A military funeral with honor guard will be held on Monday, May 11, at 11 a.m. at Golden Gate National Cemetery, 1300 Sneath Lane, San Bruno.