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Los Angeles | L.A. THEN AND NOW

WWII Soldier's Heroism Sent a Message About Prejudice

Torrance's Ted Tanouye fought and died for a nation that incarcerated his family.

July 04, 2004|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

A few days later, on Sept. 1, Tanouye was crouching to inspect a German land mine along the Arno River when another soldier accidentally tripped the wire. Tanouye took most of the blast, shielding Sgt. Hideo Kuniyoshi.

"If it weren't for Ted, I wouldn't be alive," Kuniyoshi said in a video tribute to Tanouye. Kuniyoshi is flying here from Hawaii for the unveiling of the memorial to the man who died in his stead.

As Tanouye was carried away on a stretcher, Kuniyoshi remembered, he called to his men, "Go for broke!," the motto of the 442nd. Tanouye died five days later.

Seven months later, his mother was temporarily released from the internment camp and taken by military escort to a ceremony in Little Rock, where she received her son's Distinguished Service Cross. Medal in hand, she was returned to the camp.

In 2000, Tanouye's cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor. "Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it had so ill treated," President Clinton said at a White House ceremony honoring Tanouye, 19 other Japanese Americans, a Filipino American and a Chinese American.

A short video about Tanouye's life will be shown at Wednesday's ceremony, which follows last year's renaming of the Torrance National Guard armory after him. Documentarians Craig Yahata and Robert Horsting pieced together photos and interviews with family members, classmates, military friends and current Torrance High students.

"He wasn't like other sergeants," Pvt. Rudy Tokiwa says in the video. "He had patience and tried to explain things to his men, not just give us orders."

Horsting said that Tanouye, 24, was "one of the oldest in his platoon and he felt he had to protect his men, who were mostly only 18 years old."

Tanouye and Shimatsu were buried in Italy. In 1948 they were exhumed and returned to Los Angeles. Their funerals were held simultaneously at the Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, and they were buried side by side at Evergreen Cemetery.

Seven years after Tanouye died, his youngest brother, Yukiwo, serving in the Army, was killed in the Korean War. He was buried on the other side of his brother.

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