February’s Speaker Series featured author Sandra Vea and Alan Abe, whose father was the subject of Sandra’s book, Masao, A Nisei Soldier’s Secret and Historic Role in World War II. Sandra’s book is a biography of Masao Abe who served as an interrogator/interpreter in the US Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during World War II. Unlike many other MIS soldiers, Masao saw actual combat in the Pacific serving in the 81st Infantry Division.
Sandra is a Seattle native with an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and post-graduate degrees from Western Washington and Seattle University. She is currently a high school counselor. Sandra’s motivation for writing the book was to honor the Nisei soldiers who served in the Pacific with little recognition and to all Nisei who faced adversity to prove their loyalty to this country. As Sandra wrote in her book, “This is the importance of history – to learn from our shortsightedness, to grow as a people, and to become stronger by listening to those who have gained wisdom through endurance.”
Masao was born in San Bernardino, CA on November 16, 1916. His father worked in a grocery store and when Masao was only eight years old, his family took a trip to Japan. Without any knowledge of what his parents had planned for him, Masao was left behind to be raised by his grandparents. Like many other Nisei, Masao was raised in Japan so that he could learn the language and culture. He did not return to California until he was nineteen years old.
In the fall of 1941, Masao was drafted into the U.S. Army. This was a confusing time for Masao for he had always envisioned he would be serving in the Japanese Imperial Army.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Masao was reassured by his commanding general that the Japanese American soldiers would be treated as American soldiers. He was sent to Camp Robinson in Arkansas in February 1942, but five months later he was transferred to Camp Savage as part of the MIS.
In September 1944, as a member of the 81st Infantry Division, Masao fought in the Battle of Anguar in the Palau Islands. As Masao recalled, when unloading from an amphibious landing vehicle and into heavy enemy fire, a fellow soldier jumped in first and only his head remained above water. Masao thought he would be in real trouble because he was a lot shorter than his Caucasian comrade. As it turned out, the water wasn’t that deep but the Caucasian soldier was so scared that his knees buckled and he was down on his knees.
Masao also fought in the Battle of Peleliu, which he described as a very bloody battle. In fact, the US suffered more casualties in this battle than any other amphibious operations in the Pacific War. Saburo Nakamura, a friend of Masao, was also an MIS soldier serving on the same island. Saburo recalled an incident where he convinced a Japanese Imperial soldier to surrender, but only to be shot by another American soldier. It was during the Battle of Peleliu that Masao was shot by a Japanese sniper while investigating an enemy cave.
Once the war ended, Masao was sent to Japan as part of the U.S. occupation forces. Although he had accumulated enough time in the service to be discharged, he was so highly regarded that he was encouraged to go.
Alan Abe and I grew up together in the Rainier Beach area. Out of all the time we spent together playing football and participating in judo, Alan never once mentioned that his father was a war hero. Sure, the MIS veterans were sworn to secrecy and most Nisei preferred not to talk about the past, but Alan must have seen his father’s medals or noticed his body scars. It’s difficult to be objective about one’s own parents, and it’s not socially acceptable to praise them in front of others. Thanks to Sandra, Masao’s past is finally uncovered.
Those interested in purchasing copies of Masao, A Nisei Soldier’s Secret and Historic Role in World War II, can go online to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Third Place Books’ website. For more information on the book, visit www.DMAbooks.com