One Story Behind the Stamp: Hawai‘i Cybrarian Shari Tamashiro Contributes to History in Multiple Ways  

 

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.

President Joe Biden’s Stamp Statement

June 3, 2021

It is my honor to recognize the United States Postal Service’s release of the Go for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of World War II commemorative stamp. Japanese American soldiers who fought for our Nation’s freedom during World War II represent the best of who we are as Americans—patriotic, selfless, and courageous. Their service and devotion know no bounds, and our Nation owes them a profound debt of gratitude.

Our Japanese American Service members served heroically in World War II — in combat, the Military Intelligence Service, and the Women’s Army Corps. They served with bravery and valor and were part of some of the most decorated and distinguished military units in our Nation’s history. 18,000 medals, nine Presidential Unit Citations, and 21 Medals of Honor were awarded to members of the all-Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. These patriots fought courageously for our freedom and democracy around the globe even while being stripped of personal liberties and property rights here in America.

This stamp also recognizes the struggle of the Japanese Americans who were immorally and unconstitutionally forced into inhumane incarceration camps. It is a reminder of some of our history’s most shameful and darkest days, and it is why I promise to fight every day for a more just and inclusive America. Xenophobia still exists in this country, and anti-Asian violence and hate has tragically increased during the pandemic. I signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law in May to address this crisis, and my Administration will continue to stand up against the ugly poison of hate that has long haunted and plagued our Nation.

The resilience and determination of Japanese American Service members who fought during World War II embody the best of the American spirit, and this stamp is a small but significant way to honor their allegiance and gallantry. God bless you all, and God bless our troops.

Joe Biden

Reflections – Leslie Sakato

June 1, 2021

I want to thank everyone who worked tirelessly to create the Go For Broke stamp as well as those who worked to get the Go For Broke Stamp issued.  I know my father, in heaven, is especially proud and happy for this to be happening. I can visualize the joy on his face.  

The attached photo, which is one of my all-time favorites, was taken at the Stockyards Branch of the Post Office at a gathering celebrating the issuance of the Medal of Honor WWII stamps.  I believe a reporter from the Denver Post took this photo. Can you imagine the size of his smile if he were holding both the Medal of Honor and the Go For Broke stamps? 

George “Joe” Sakato receiving a postal honor in November 2013 (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post)

 My father’s story is not unlike many young Japanese Americans at that time.  When his family heard that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, his reaction was shock, disbelief and a need to join Military Service to defend the country he loves, and then followed by Executive Order 9066 deeming him an enemy alien.  He was devastated.  “Why?  I am an American!”  

He had extended family in Phoenix who agreed to take them in which made it possible to avoid being sent to an internment camp.  So, when he was allowed to enlist, he had added incentive to prove that the Japanese Americans were loyal Americans, who loved their country as much or more than other young American men.

My father always said he enlisted in the Air Force.  To his surprise, when they got off the bus for basic training, he asked his DI “Where are the Airplanes?”  to which the DI replied “Son, you are in the Army now.”  They, needless to say, were in the segregated unit RCT442. 

My dad was not a natural soldier.  He said he couldn’t shoot well, and the rigor of going up and down the mountains in France was so hard that his buddies had to carry his pack for him.  He was required to carry his own gun, just in case it was needed.  (In his 70’s he learned from his cardiologist that he had a heart murmur which most likely was part of the problem for him back then.)  

On Hill 617 when his best friend, Saburo Tanamachi, died in his arms, he started a one man charge up the hill with his Thompson submachine gun.  When the Thompson ran out of ammunition, he continued his charge with a German rifle and pistol.  He killed seven German soldiers and he and his platoon (who followed his lead up the hill) captured 34. 

As his platoon was on en route to rescue the Lost Battalion he was wounded by a mortar shell which exploded behind him.  His heavy winter coat tightly folded in his backpack slowed down the shell, which ended up becoming embedded so close to his heart that the doctors felt it was safer to leave it in his chest.  Dad spent more time in the hospitals than his actual service time on the battle fields.  He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on the day of his discharge from the Army.  

Once my dad got back from the war, he and his brother, Henry, decided to take a trip across the country before settling down.  Henry knew a young man in his unit that lived in Denver.  During that Denver stop, my father met Bess Saito who he later married.  

Dad talked about how difficult it was to find a job post-war.  The anger toward the Japanese was the main problem.  He would often wear his uniform to job interview as a way to show his allegiance to our country.  He took classes at the University of Denver during the day and worked at the post office at night.  He found the Post Office a good place for him.  He found another family working at the USPS.   

In 2000 my dad’s DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.  When the General called to tell him of the upgrade to the MOH my father was speechless.  The general wondered if dad had passed out because it took so long for him to respond.  This honor allowed my parents to travel across our Nation to MOH events and meet wonderful people.   

I think a benefit that few would realize is it gave my father a forum to tell the story of the 442nd.  Most vets were amazed at his memory and willingness to share his stories.  I loved going with him and watching the students faces as he would talk.   

He would always end his talk saying “People say that I am a hero, but I am not.  The real heroes are the ones who were not able to come home.”  He was proud to be a part of the 442nd, and proud to keep their memory alive.  

Remember the ceremony for the Medal of Honor Stamp?  When the post office learned that dad was a WWII MOH recipient and a retired postal employee he was invited to the WWII Memorial for the unveiling.  That was very special.  We even met the Postmaster General.  

The most recent blessing is that the Stockyards Station post office was renamed the “George Sakato Post Office” in 2019.  It is not a fancy station, but it is the office from which he retired.  

I am very grateful to the Postal Service for honoring the Nisei Veterans and for taking such good care of one of their employees. 

Leslie Sakato (right) with her father, the late George “Joe” Sakato (Photo courtesy of Sandra Tanamachi)

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