Miwako Yanamoto was born in Los Angeles and raised in Boyle Heights and Little Tokyo prior to WW II and attended Virgil Junior High, Belmont High School and Los Angeles Community College before being removed and incarcerated at a camp in Poston, Arizona.
Miwako enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC) and served from April 1945 – February 1946. At the end of the war in September 1945, 11 Japanese-American WACs (along with one Chinese American and one Caucasian) accepted assignments in Tokyo, Japan, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. As part of the Army of Occupation, the Nisei WAC’s job was to work with captured documents as well as help build relations with the Japanese.
Miwako Yanamoto recounts how they were able to first travel around the South Pacific islands for about six weeks, including ten days in Hawaii, because they kept getting bumped off the planes for higher ranking officers or men whose mission was more important than documenting translations. During this time, they were called "mannequins of democracy," serving as unofficial ambassadors.
But as soon as they arrived in Tokyo, they learned that General MacArthur did not approve of enlisted women serving overseas. He ordered them to either return to the United States as WACs or serve one-year contracts in Japan as civilians with the Civil Intelligence Service.
Twelve of the women remained in Japan as civil servants. In this capacity, Miwako Yanamoto says she received much better pay than she did as a sergeant.
But while she translated documents to be used in the war crimes trials, living in war-ravaged Japan was a jarring experience. She describes the destitute situation in which people were living in the subways and scrounging for food in garbage cans. There were many orphans who were trying to survive in any way they could. "It was tough times for the Japanese," she said.
Miwako worked in Tokyo for the War Department and after returning to Los Angeles, she worked for many years as a court/hearing reporter for the Los Angeles Police Department and later, the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. She retired in 1983 but continued to work part time for the Public Employment Relations Board until 1995. She was an active volunteer with a number of Japanese American community organizations including the JACL; she was particularly active in maintaining the history of Nisei women in the Women Army Corps.
Miwako passed away on December 16, 2006.
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These WACs L-R are Rhoda Knudten, Fumiko Segawa, Mickey Minata, Terry Nakanishi, Matsuko Kido, Chito Isonaga, Bertha Chin, Edith Kodama, Harriet Hirakawa, Miwako Yanamoto, Atsuko Mori, Sue Shinagawa, and Mary Nakamura.
Miwako is standing, 3rd from right