By Nathan Hokama (for Stamp Our Story)
Cybrarians — librarians adept at online research — may be more accustomed to helping others behind the scenes, but their contributions often thrust them into the limelight. Shari Tamashiro who works at Kapi‘olani Community College, one of the 10 campuses in the statewide University of Hawai‘i system, is one of those cybrarians. She is one of many individuals worldwide who have played an important role over the past 16 years to make the first U.S. postage stamp featuring a Go for Broke Nisei Soldier a reality. Little did Tamashiro know a photo of Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto that she used for an online digital storytelling project would one day itself make history.
Shari Tamashiro, a cybrarian in the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Technology at Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC), is passionate about historical preservation and storytelling. So it was only fitting for her to be tasked with creating the Hawaii Nisei Story website, a joint project of the University of Hawai‘i Center for Oral History, Hamilton Library, and KCC. Tamashiro was already well acquainted with Nisei. While an undergraduate at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she had the opportunity to visit Fort Snelling/Camp Savage and do extensive research on the Military Intelligence Service Language School.
The third generation Okinawan/Japanese American who had two uncles who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team put her academic research and digital technology experience to good use. She masterfully brought to life the stories of more than 20 Nisei men and women who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, the Varsity Victory Volunteers, and the Women’s Army Corps — a project that took years to complete. The result: a scholarly compendium that serves as an approachable resource for those who never learned why the Hawaii Nisei generation deserves such prominent recognition in American and world history.
A Work of Lasting Value
Meticulously pouring over pages and pages of oral history transcripts from the six-hour interviews with each Nisei hero and heroine, Tamashiro transformed the transcripts into digital stories, giving readers a firsthand, “talk story” experience as each one shared their experiences in their own voice. Their stories of sacrifice, loyalty and teamwork epitomize the values of the Nisei — the result of what they learned from their parents, the Issei generation. Tamashiro also conducted additional research to illuminate points made in their interviews to provide more context and to add another dimension to their stories. (See sidebar on Glider Training.)
The website preserves and perpetuates the legacy of the Hawaii Nisei generation for those who grew up with only a superficial understanding of what happened to their parents, grandparents or other relatives who rarely talked about their experiences out of humility or to avoid the pain of having to relive the trauma. The Hawaii Nisei Stories website fills an important void by letting generations of today connect to their past and understand the civil rights implications for today to prevent history from repeating itself.
Tamashiro noted that although the process of advocating for the stamp is fascinating, she said “the Go for Broke and Nisei stories are what matters the most and we should not lose sight of the application of the lessons we learned from their experiences, especially with what is happening in our nation today.”
Working with Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto
Tamashiro has a special affinity for Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto, who served as a guide at the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii for 30 years.
“He was the first story that I worked on for the Hawaii Nisei Story website, so I took twice as long,” Tamashiro recalls, as she developed the prototype format for the other stories.
“I felt like I knew all the details of his life by the time I met him.”
Tamashiro eventually met Yamamoto in real life and had an opportunity to work directly with him for the Hawaii Nisei Soldiers website, including selecting photos from his personal collection to accompany his online story.
The company contracted by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to design the Go for Broke Soldiers commemorative stamp came across the photo of Yamamoto on the Hawaii Nisei Story website, and contacted Tamashiro to use the photo.
“I’m glad he was chosen because he was one of the unassuming, regular guys,” she said. “He was not a Medal of Honor winner but he played an important role like all the others.”
The Go for Broke Soldiers stamp image was created by Antonio Alcalá, art director with USPS, using the intaglio method, a handmade printmaking process developed in the 1600s.
Sharing Her Expertise
Tamashiro’s authority on the contributions of the Nisei during and after World War II made her highly sought after for two other projects. She created the “Looking Like the Enemy” exhibit at Pearl Harbor and curated a 14-poster exhibit for display at Central Pacific Bank’s main branch in downtown Honolulu. Central Pacific Bank was founded by Nisei Veterans who were unable to obtain loans from other banks when they returned from the war, so they started their own financial institution which continues today.
Tamashiro also served as president of the board of trustees of the Hawaiian Historical Society and has the distinction of being the first foreign and first female World Eisa Ambassador appointed by the government of Okinawa.
Did you know…
Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamato was born when his father was 46 years old, which is how he got his name: “Shi roku” or four-six. Shiro is also the Japanese word for white, which explains his nickname “Whitey.”
Glider Training During World War II
Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto, who was part of the 442nd’s Antitank Company, was pulled from the battlefield for a special assignment. They underwent special training in Rome, Italy, to be part of the glider troop to ultimately rescue “The Lost Battalion” in southern France.
A sidebar on the training for the glider operation, on the Hawaii Nisei Story site, allows you to experience the exhilaration, suspense, pride and sorrow experienced by the soldiers. Many in the Antitank Company lost their lives or were injured. C-47 tug planes towed the gliders made with metal, wood and canvas over the Ligurian Sea to reach their destination. After paratroopers first secured the fields for landing, the gliders literally hit the ground running until they were relieved by seaborne troops. They continued to clear mines, guard roads and tunnels, and capture Germans.