“Portraits of Courage,” featuring 12 large prints of Japanese American World War II veterans, is on display through June 10 at Go For Broke National Education Center, 355 E. First St. (at Central) in Little Tokyo.
The exhibit is based on “The Go For Broke Spirit,” a book by photographer Shane Sato and oral historian Robert Horsting. Since 2000, Sato has shot over 120 portraits of Nisei veterans, 81 of whom appear in the book. Around 2007, he began photographing them in World War II-era uniforms.
Admission to the exhibit, located on the ground floor of Go For Broke, is free; visitors must still pay to see the “Defining Courage” exhibition upstairs.
During the opening weekend, May 5 and 6, Sato, Horsting and several veterans were on hand to interact with visitors.
“I’ve always wanted to do an exhibit, but they were able to get a grant so we could have a traveling show,” said Sato. “So with the grant we were able to do the larger prints and because of the space we were able to utilize more of the space by making smaller portraits. We are not sure if the smaller portraits are going to travel or not, but that’s something that I hope to do.”
Selecting the photos was a collaborative process, he said. “My favorite portraits as well as ones that Go For Broke wanted to represent to tell the story … We tried to choose the portraits of the veterans that are still around.”
Sato spent a lot of time working on the steel frames. “Steel kind of represented the strength and the power of the Issei and the Nisei … So the frames should enhance the portrait itself … a strong portrait surrounded by a strong, custom-made frame.”
He added, “Everyone really loves the show. They like seeing the portraits big.”
Many visitors come with no prior knowledge of the Japanese American wartime experience. “There’s quite a few people that are interested in art … so a lot of them are coming in and looking at the photography, then they start learning a little bit more about the history, especially since a lot of this history is not taught in any of the schools, so they’re learning for the first time about some of these stories. That’s some of the feedback that I’ve been getting.”
The plan is to take the exhibit on the road, but the next venue has yet to be determined.
Veterans who attended the opening included the following:
• Technical Sgt. Tokuji “Toke” Yoshihashi, A Company, 100 Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Born in Pasadena, he was incarcerated with his family at Gila River in Arizona and was in the first group drafted out of camp. He took part in the breaking of the Gothic Line, which was German’s last strong defensive position. (His daughter Pauline Yoshihashi wrote for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.)
• Hitoshi “Hit” Ohara, Military Intelligence Service. Born in Fresno, he was drafted out of the Manzanar camp in 1944. He and other Nisei soldiers were trained to act like Japanese imperial soldiers in possible tactic scenarios for American soldiers.
• Corporal Fernando Joseph Sosa, F Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Born near Downtown Los Angeles, he was eager to join the U.S. Navy. However, to his surprise, he found out that he was half Japanese and was sent to the 442nd. He was eventually sent to Europe, but the war had already ended by the time he arrived. His duties included guarding German prisoners of war.
Operating hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday, 12 to 8 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Monday. For more information, call (310) 328-0907 or visit www.goforbroke.org. For information on the book, visit www.thegoforbrokespirit.com.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo