There was a really nice article that appeared in the July 16 edition of The Los Angeles Times (read it online at http://tinyurl.com/ou4jx4g) on the Japanese American National Museum’s photo exhibition “Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images.”
“Sus Ito” is short for Dr. Susumu Ito, 96, who served as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army’s 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Team’s artillery arm, known as the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. His story, just like many of the other Nisei who served the U.S. as members of the 100th/442nd in Europe and the MIS in the Pacific during WWII, is fascinating.
Unlike many in those groups, however, Ito has images to accompany those stories.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ito for the first time in 2003 at the 60th 442 reunion in Hawaii. He was among the vets I interviewed there for my short-form documentary, “Going for Honor, Going for Broke: The 442 Story,” funded by a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.
Incidentally, he earned his Ph.D. postwar in biology and embryology and went on to become a professor at Harvard Medical School.
The Times article’s focus was on decades-old photos Ito shot as he served in Europe. (I remember months ago hearing of the upcoming exhibition.) He wasn’t supposed to have a camera on his person, but he carried a small Agfa anyway, taking pics along the way of his compatriots and the sites. He developed the negatives along the way and some images he had printed, while some just stayed locked in negatives for decades.
Ito donated what The Times described as “thousands of images” to JANM, which is no doubt the ideal place to house and share his historical trove.
In my documentary, Ito described what he had seen when the 522nd helped liberate the Nazi extermination camp at Dachau, and some of what he witnessed — prisoners, most of them European Jews in striped prison garb — is among the photos in the exhibition.
I look forward to seeing the exhibition before it closes Sept. 6. Incidentally, the museum is located at 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012. It’s closed Mondays, and its hours of operation are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and noon-8 p.m. on Thursdays. FYI, JANM offers free general admission every Thursday from 5-8 p.m. and all day every third Thursday of the month.
To see JANM’s web page on the topic and a video interview with Ito, visit www.janm.org/exhibits/sus-ito/sus/.
Meantime, I got a couple of 442-related emails tied into upcoming events worth noting.
One, from Hideki “Dick” Obayashi, noted that Herve Claudon, a Frenchman from the Vosges area of France, will give a presentation at JANM from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct 17.
According to Obayashi, Claudon — who will be in Los Angeles with his wife, Sylvie Claudon, for the event — became fascinated with the 100th/442nd when he learned how the unit was instrumental in liberating a couple of French villages (Bruyeres and Biffontaine) from the occupying Germans in grueling, bloody combat.
The French locals, of course, were no doubt grateful that American soldiers came to drive out the Germans — and were even more astonished that these particular Americans were from Hawaii and California and of Japanese heritage.
Claudon has been researching the history of the Vosges campaign for more than three decades and has plenty to share about what he’s learned.
The other email came from Eric Saul, who also appeared in my documentary and helped supply some of the materials I used in it.
He wrote: “I am pleased to announce that the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center is opening an exhibit at Temple Emmanu-El, in Honolulu, Hawaii, honoring the 522nd Field Artillery of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“The exhibit is entitled ‘Unlikely Liberators: The Remarkable Story of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and the Liberation of the Dachau Death March.’
“The exhibit will officially open at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. If you are in Hawaii, I hope that you can attend this important program and ceremony.”
He added: “On May 2, 1945, advance patrols of the 522nd Field Artillery happened on a scene of immense importance. German guards had begun murdering the remnants of the infamous Dachau Death March. The presence of the 522nd soldiers caused the German guards to flee. This saved the lives of thousands of Jews who would certainly have been murdered otherwise. This little-known event is documented in an important exhibit. The few Nisei soldiers with cameras documented the event. After 70 years, we commemorate the role of the Nisei soldiers as liberators and eye-witnesses to the Holocaust.”
Saul also gave recognition to Wes Deguchi and Phyllis Hironaka and all the members of the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center for “organizing this important historical program.”
It’s heartening to know that all these decades after the end of WWII, the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the surrender of Imperial Japan and so on, that we can also still recognize and remember those Japanese Americans who served the U.S. at a crucial time and made life better for the generations that followed.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2015 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.