Reflections – Sandra Tanamachi

Sandra Tanamachi(right) with family at the grave of Saburo Tanamachi (Photo courtesy of Sandra Tanamachi)

June 1, 2021

What a fitting tribute to our beloved Nisei Veterans to have a U.S. Forever Stamp which recognizes and honors them for their extraordinary heroism, bravery, and sacrifices during WWII. We each stand on their shoulders, and we and future generations to come have all benefitted from their acts of courage and sacrifices.  Sincere thanks to Fusa Takahashi, Aiko O. King, and the late Chiz Ohira for beginning and leading the campaign which began in 2005. Wayne Osako, another early leader in the campaign, deserves much appreciation and thanks for making the fruition of the Go For Broke Nisei Soldiers Stamp a reality.  It’s been an honor and privilege for me to a part of this campaign since February 2007. 

This is one way of personally thanking my four Tanamachi uncles who were part of the famed 442nd, and the two uncles on my mother, Kikuko Nakao Tanamachi’s Nakao side. One of my mother’s younger brothers, Taira Nakao, was part of the MIS and served in Tokyo during the Occupation of Japan. Nobumasa “Happy” Kitayama was part of the 442nd and was married to my mother’s younger sister, Ikuko Nakao Kitayama.

None of our uncles ever spoke about being in the 442 while we were growing up in Texas . However, my four siblings and I were introduced to Uncle Saburo by his picture which was hanging prominently in our grandparents living room. He was dressed in his Army uniform and cap with a superior marksmanship pin on his left side.  Included in the picture frame were his Silver Star Medal and Purple Heart.  He had written on the top of his picture, “To Mother and Dad, and all the rest,” then signed on the bottom, “Just a soldier, Saburo Tanamachi.”

Willie was the first of the Tanamachi brothers to enlist in the Army Air Corps when he was 19 years old. He was born on March 1, 1921 the day when our grandparents, Kumazo and Asao Hirayama Tanamachi, arrived in Beaumont, Texas with their five older children, Jack Ichiro, Jerry Jiro (my father), Fumiko Onishi, Saburo, and Goro. Our grandfather had come from Fukuoka, Japan and settled in Seal Beach, California. He married Asao Hirayama who also was from Fukuoka, and they began their family and started farming. Kumazo wasn’t able to purchase his own land in California, so he moved his family to Texas where land was available for him to purchase.

 After December 1941, Willie was involuntarily reassigned from the Army Air Corps to other units of the Army. In the summer of 1944, as a sergeant with almost 4 years of military service, Willie was sent to Camp Shelby where he joined the 171st Infantry Battalion which trained replacements for the 442nd RCT.  In June 1945, he was sent to France on board the Queen Mary for his assignment in Germany. During the Korean War, Willie was stationed in Germany, subsequently completed two tours of duty in Vietnam, and retired in 1971 after serving for more than 30 years of military service.

Willie’s older brother, Saburo, was born on April 1, 1917 and was drafted in February 1944. When the 442nd RCT was activated, he joined it as a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion. He was killed in action on October 29, 1944, during the rescue of the trapped Texas Battalion on Hill 617 in the vicinity of Biffontaine, located in northeastern France. He was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Saburo, squad leader, died in the arms of this best friend, George T. “Joe” Sakato. Assuming the command of the squad, Sakato, armed with an enemy rifle and pistol, led the charge against the enemy to avenge the death of his buddy. His display of courage, over and beyond the call of duty, turned impending defeat into victory. Sakato was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Saburo was one of the first two Japanese Americans along with Fumitake Nagato to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.  Honorary pallbearers included the following individuals: General Jacob Devers, Commanding General of the Army Ground Forces who commanded the Sixth Army Group under which the 442nd fought in France; Major General John E. Dahlquist, Commanding Officer of the 36th Texas Division to which the 442nd was attached for the offensive in France; Colonel Charles W. Pence, Commander of the 442nd; Colonel Virgil R. Miller, Commander of the 442nd RCT after Colonel Pence was wounded in the Vosges; Colonel Charles H. Owens, wartime commander of the 141st Infantry Regiment, parent company unit of the Lost Battalion; Mike Masaoka, National Legislative Director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and former 442nd member; Ira Shimasaki, President of the WDC JACL Chapter; and Jesse S. Shima, Head of the Japan -America Society of Washington, D.C. 

General Jacob L. Devers said, “There is one supreme and final test of loyalty to one’s native land. This test is readiness and willingness to fight for, and if need be, to die for one’s country. These Americans, and their fellow Nisei veterans, passed that test with colors flying. They proved their loyalty and devotion beyond all question. The United States Army salutes you, Pfc. Fumitake Nagato and Pfc. Saburo Tanamachi. You and your compatriots will live in our hearts and our history as Americans, first class.”

Goro Tanamachi, born on May 27, 1919, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940, was sent to aviation technical school, and graduated as an airplane mechanic.  He was removed from duty  after December 7, 1941. When the 442nd RCT was formed in February 1943, Goro was sent to Camp Shelby initially as a member of the training cadre and then deployed to Italy and France with the 442nd. While in France, he was called to identify the body of his older brother Saburo on October 29, 1944. Goro earned four Bronze Star Medals and was honorably discharged on August 4, 1945. 

Walter Tanamachi was the youngest brother born on May 30, 1925.  He was assigned to the Port of Bremerhaven, Germany, around 1945.  He was selected for Officer Candidate School and received his commission as Second Lieutenant.  Following his discharge, he attended Texas A&M University on the G.I. Bill and graduated in 1952. 

Born on August 18, 1923, Taira Nakao was incarcerated in Rohwer, Arkansas, along with his mother, 2 sisters, and younger brother. He was able to find work on his brother-in-law, Jerry Jiro Tanamachi’s farm after his older sister, Kikuko Nakao Tanamachi, married Jerry and moved to Texas. It was in Texas where he was drafted into the Army and was assigned to the MIS due to his abilities to speak, read, and write in Japanese. He served in Tokyo during the Occupation of Japan. 

 Nobumasa “Happy” Kitayama born on February 2, 1925, graduated from Donna High School in 1943. He was drafted into the Army where he served his country as a sharpshooter and was promoted to sergeant after only 18 months.  He was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to Donna, Texas, to take over the family farm.

The Go For Broke Nisei Soldier Stamp will honor each of these outstanding uncles, as well as each of our beloved Nisei veterans across the nation who served valiantly during WWII.  It is, indeed, a most fitting way to honor and remember our Heroes!

Sandra Tanamachi (Nakata), Lake Jackson, Texas