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Little Different From Other Americans : Japanese-Americans, reflecting on WWII history, review the difficult choices of wartime

March 28, 1993

Jun Yamamoto. Frank Emi. One man said yes to serving the United States in World War II, the other said no. Fifty years later, these two proud Americans of Japanese ancestry-- subjects in two recent Times articles--are passing on their sometimes bittersweet war memories to their children and grandchildren. Their lessons of civic duty and pride, of bravery, independence, resilience and forgiveness embody the best of American ideals.

In 1942, those ideals were put to a severe test. Three months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, in rural camps behind barbed wire. Their loyalty to this country was suspect simply because of their ancestry and race.

Later, when Roosevelt called upon Japanese-Americans to volunteer for a segregated military unit--the 442nd Regimental Combat Team--Yamamoto responded, hoping to show he was a loyal American. More than 33,000 other Japanese-Americans did the same, serving in the 442nd, the Military Intelligence Service and other units. Their valor became legend: The "Go for Broke" 442nd turned out to be one of the most decorated military units in American history. Last week, members of the unit and their families gathered in Hawaii for the 442nd's 50th anniversary.

Emi, who received a draft notice when he was in a Wyoming internment camp, would be among 300 or so Japanese-Americans who refused to fight for freedom and democracy overseas while being denied both at home. They were jailed but later pardoned by President Harry S. Truman. Their stand on principle was scorned by some in their community.

But in a time of war and flagrant racism, both Yamamoto and Emi proved they were true Americans. They followed their consciences. They displayed great courage in the face of adversity. Their integrity, and that of Japanese-Americans as a whole, is a special chapter of American history that now, more than ever, is worth remembering.

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