Called an ‘enemy alien’

Jiro Yukimura was in his dorm room at the University of Hawaii getting ready for church when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. He volunteered to serve the next day.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories by The Garden Island marking the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, and the end of World War II.

Jiro Yukimura was in his dorm room at the University of Hawaii getting ready for church when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. He volunteered to serve the next day.

“My first assignment was to go to the boat canal to look out at the ocean to see if they would attack us by sea,” Yukimura said, remembering the events in the days following the attack. He was given a 1903 Springfield rifle with one clip and five rounds to stand guard. Later, he was stationed at a water pump to protect against sabotage.

After a month, he and other Japanese Americans who had volunteered to serve were called in by the Army — and kicked out.

“I’m an enemy alien now, not to be trusted,” Yukimura said, the hurt in his voice still obvious more than 70 years later. “That was a big blow, we were all practically crying.”

Told he wasn’t needed — worse, wasn’t trusted — Yukimura had no reason to stay in Honolulu so he went home to Kauai where he worked for his parents’ store. But even then, he continued to help with the war effort, and would go to the west side of the island every Sunday to help clear brush away from the shoreline so American forces would have a clear line of sight to shoot in the event of an invasion.

Then in March of 1943, the Army decided that Japanese Americans could be useful, and formed the 442nd regiment. Yukimura again volunteered.

He was sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to train in the infantry. The reception was less than welcoming. People put up signs saying that “the Japs have invaded.” But they didn’t stay there long — he was soon one of 250 pulled out of infantry training and instead sent to Minnesota to serve in military intelligence as a translator, since he spoke some Japanese.

“Compared to down south, it was wonderful. There was a great deal of aloha,” Yukimura said.

It was the first time he had seen snow, and he smiled recalling the event.

“We all went out and had a great time,” he said.

Upon graduation, the 250 recruits were split up and scattered out into the Pacific Theater to fight the Japanese. Yukimura ended up in northern Australia, near Brisbane, translating documents brought back from the front lines.

“When the dead soldiers, they had diaries — the diaries came in and we would translate them,” Yukimura said. “We were told not to keep diaries, but the Japanese soldiers weren’t told that.”

The diaries were a useful source of information — they had details about ports the soldiers left from and future troop movements.

As the war progressed, Yukimura moved to different stations throughout the Pacific Theater. He was promoted to 2nd Lt. and put in the public relations office, assigned to a group of correspondents covering the news.

“We were getting ready to hit Japan proper,” Yukimura said, but, “when we were preparing to go in, America dropped the bomb, so the war ended; Japan gave up.”

That put 2nd Lt. Jiro Yukimura, who witnessed the war from the very beginning of America’s involvement, in a unique position to witness history. On the day of the surrender ceremony, Yukimura got on a destroyer and headed into Tokyo Bay to board the USS Missiouri was, and from the navigation deck, he watched as Japan formally surrendered.

“General McArthur gave a short talk. He pointed out that we just got through a horrendous war,” and that hopefully the world would learn from it, Yukimura said. “But unfortunately, you know what happened. A few years later, we had the Korean War. Then the Vietnam War,” and wars are still continuing today.

“It’s a sad thing that we have not yet learned to be friends with our neighbors. I guess we can never have total peace throughout the world.”

Yukimura was stationed in Japan during the post-war occupation, in the greater Tokyo area, and he shared a story about a time a reporter from the New York Daily found a little girl who was lost.

“It took us until about midnight to eventually get her home (to her family). They were so happy to get her back,” Yukimura said.

Reporter Lowell Limpus wrote an article about helping the little girl find her family, and that article was read by Yukimura’s friend Ichiro Okada, of Waimea. Okada had fought with the 442nd and was wounded in Italy. He was recovering in a hospital in London when he read the article, and wrote to Yukimura. Yukimura laughed when he recalled getting the letter.

Yukimura said he sometimes wonders whatever became of that little girl.

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Ryan Kazmirzack, government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428.

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