Some of you may have heard the stories about men of 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and other Americans of Japanese descent who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II but were denied membership in the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). One letter of membership denial was shown to me by a fellow VFW member at VFW Post 51 in Spokane, WA; it was Private First Class Richard H. Naito’s (PFC Naito’s) membership denial letter. This was the first time I have read these letters.
I have visited VFW Post 51 many times, but until now I did not know this was the VFW Post that denied PFC Naito membership into the VFW.
76 years after PFC Naito's VFW membership denial at VFW Post 51, I - an American of Japanese ancestry, an Iraq War veteran, and a VFW Legacy Life Member - am always welcomed at VFW Post 51 by its current members and the auxiliary. In fact, I am welcomed at all VFW Posts that I have visited.
This was a dark period in American history and for the VFW. Many members at VFW Post 51 have approached me on this and apologized. Lieutenant Colonel Young Oak Kim, formerly a platoon leader with B Company, 100th Infantry Battalion during WWII, said during an interview “They had a choice, either to go and serve for America and fight for America, or sit back and complain . . .” I chose to volunteer and serve to fight for America, just like our predecessors the Nisei Vets. If it were not for the Nisei Veterans who came before, my time in the U.S. Army would not have been as successful as it was, nor would I have been able to embrace my ability to join the VFW.
Times have changed for the better since 1945. The Nisei Veterans left us a legacy, broke barriers in the armed forces that helped to desegregate the military, and many other accomplishments after WWII as citizens of the United States of America. They were role models, mentors, and leaders who had a positive impact not only on following generations of Americans of Japanese ancestry, but to all of us.
The legacy the Nisei Veterans left was meant for all veterans to carry on, and that is what I plan to do as I continue to serve with the VFW and embrace my opportunity to run for a senior office in the VFW of Washington State.
Go For Broke!