CAMPAIGN SEEKS HELP TO HONOR NISEI VETERANS THROUGH MEMORIAL STAMP
The World War II internment of Japanese Americans has been in the national spotlight after some politicians reacted to the recent terrorist attacks with suspicion of all Muslim immigrants, and even calls for new internments. In the wake of these events, three Nisei women from California are pushing for a US commemorative postage stamp featuring the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II. The Memorial, located near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., tells the story of the internment and the 33,000 Japanese Americans who responded to wartime hysteria and prejudice against them by enlisting in the U.S. Army, and serving with great valor.
“If cartoon characters can get a postage stamp, we certainly can get a stamp that honors the inspiring story of these Americans, “ explained Fusa Takahashi, one of the campaign’s founders. “Many people don’t know the Nisei soldiers’ story. The government took away their rights and imprisoned them behind barbed wire fences, yet without hesitation, they stepped up to serve their country and became one of the most decorated units in history.” Her late husband, Kazuo Takahashi, was one of the Nisei who served in the US Military Intelligence Service during the war. “Nisei” is the Japanese word for the American-born children of immigrants from Japan.
The stamp campaign founders are Fusa Takahashi (88) of Granite Bay, Aiko O. King (88) of Camarillo, and Chiz Ohira (87) of Gardena. Takahashi and Ohira are widows of Nisei veterans. King is a longtime member of the JACL Ventura Chapter. “We are trying hard to get this done while at least some of the Nisei veterans are still around.” King explained. “There aren’t many left.”
In October of 2015, the Postal Service upgraded the ladies’ proposal for the Memorial to “under consideration” status, which is the final step before a stamp is issued. But hundreds of other proposals are also in the same category waiting to be issued, making the last step perhaps the most difficult. Many stamp subjects that are “under consideration” never make it. So the ladies and their supporters are doubling efforts now.
The trio started the Nisei World War II Stamp Campaign in 2005, with the help of many JACL members. It began with a stamp proposal focusing solely on the Nisei veterans. But in 2007, the trio learned of an internal policy that is not on the Postal Service’s public list of stamp selection rules. The hidden rule prohibits new stamps from directly honoring military units and veterans groups. After years of trying to get the Postal Service to change this policy without success, last year the ladies decided to compromise and work within the government’s framework. The ladies and their supporters are now pushing for this Memorial stamp instead of a prohibited veteran-focused stamp. “We support the Memorial stamp because the Nisei veterans are at the heart of the Memorial’s story,” said Takahashi. “It also has the best chance to become a stamp soon.”
Takahashi and King are childhood friends from the small California farm town of Cortez, near Turlock, California. Both were incarcerated at the Granada (Amache), Colorado internment camp. They saw their peers enlist in the Army from camp, but some never returned. They kept in touch over the years, and started their campaign after visiting the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. “I had a few classmates and friends who were killed in action,” Takahashi said. “When Aiko and I visited the museum, they had a nice display about the Nisei soldiers but I felt the story needed to be told to a broader audience. I later read the Eric Saul speech, ‘America at Its Best,’ and it convinced me we needed to do something. We thought of the stamp.” Historian Eric Saul’s famous speech was originally presented at a reunion of the veterans, and in it, he outlines the motivations and the extraordinary accomplishments of the Nisei veterans.
Takahashi and King gathered with supporters on Sunday, December 20, 2015, in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California. They discussed the campaign and plans for a stamp to honor the veterans through the Memorial. The ladies were interviewed on camera at a USC studio to document their 10-year campaign, and to ask for support. Parts of the interview will air on the campaign’s website, www.NiseiStamp.org, this year.
The campaign began at the grassroots level. The ladies first got their friends, family, and their local communities to sign their petitions and send letters of support. They linked up with many JACL members, and it grew to be a nationwide effort. Six state resolutions of support for the stamp were passed in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Illinois. The Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) offered help. JAVA friends from the US joined with French citizens to create a successful petition and letter-writing campaign for the stamp in Bruyeres, France, where Nisei soldiers liberated towns during the war. Past letters of support came from Congress in 2009, and from numerous national organizations including the National JACL Board and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Even actor/activist George Takei voiced his support in 2007. While the Postal Service has looked at their proposals a few times, it has yet to issue any stamps in response. They learned that the Postal Service is not influenced much by petitions, and that it will take larger actions to succeed, perhaps from Congress.
“We will be seeking a Congressional Letter of Support asking the Postmaster General to green light the stamp,“ explained Campaign Coordinator and Co-Chair Wayne Osako. “Contact your Representative and Senators in Congress to sign the letter which will be circulated in both houses on Capitol Hill this spring. ” JACL members can organize locally to contact their Congress members.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced from their homes and placed into internment camps. It didn’t matter if the person was an American citizen or not. If that person had any Japanese ancestry and lived in one of the mainland West Coast states, they were put into the camps. Many internees, especially young adults who were born and raised in the US, were upset that their Constitutional rights were being taken away just because of their ancestry. Thousands of Nisei decided to prove their loyalty and serve in the military. These are the Nisei that campaign supporters seek to highlight through the Memorial stamp.
After hearing campaign founder Aiko O. King talk, documentary producer Jeff MacIntyre was intrigued by the Nisei stamp campaign and decided to help. King stood up and spoke about the campaign after a screening of one of his films at the Oxnard Library in California on August 29, 2015. MacIntyre set up his own website, www.TheyDeserveAStamp.org. MacIntyre shares the goal of honoring the veterans on a stamp.
Through the combined efforts of supporters nationwide, the ladies are working hard on the campaign to see it to completion. Takahashi explained, “It is our hope that, through the stamp, we can educate the American public about the unique heroism, sacrifices, and accomplishments made by the Nisei soldiers.”
The Postal Service is under the Executive Branch of government, with the President at the top. Asked if she thinks President Barack Obama might help, Fusa replied, “If I could talk to the President, I would tell him the same thing as I told the Postmaster General in a letter. It is not a complicated story, but it is very compelling and very unique in its nature. I actually did write President Obama in 2009, but I am still waiting for a response. I am sure it probably never even made it to his desk.” Perhaps the President, and the Postmaster General, will hear the new call to action this year with the campaign’s revived efforts. The ladies and their supporters are doing their best to make that happen.