The Behind the Scenes Look at Three Unsung Heroes - by Dave Buto
The names of the Medal of Honor awardees are now part of history. Their names will be forever enshrined in the Hall of Honor in the Pentagon and in the annals of the deeds of Asian Americans. But three names that will go unnoticed are Richard "Sus" Yamamoto, Fumie Yamamoto, and Maggie Ikeda who in their own way, made tremendous sacrifices without which the awards of the Medals of Honor may well have taken much longer to occur. At the Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera's reception for the Medal of Honor recipients on 21 June, one of the speakers (Ed Ichiyama) recognized their decade-long research of the 100th Battalion/442nd RCT at the National Archives. This short article is based on an interview with them on 3 August, 2000,
It began innocently enough around 1990 as a result of a visit from Ted Tsukiyama, the 442nd Club historian. Ted was working on establishing a library and museum in Hawaii. He needed help in Washington, D.C. to conduct extensive research at the National Archives. He conferred first with Aiko and Jack Herzig in Virginia who had an extensive, personally-researched archive, and he hoped to tap into their expertise in research at the Archives and elsewhere. The Herzigs helped gather a group to hear Ted's plea for volunteers. Sus Yamamoto volunteered to help, and he was joined by his wife, Fumie, and their close friend, Maggie Ikeda. Over the years, others joined in now and then and assisted. Martha Giovanelli (Ted's sister), was a regular for many months. But these three were the ones who stuck it out for the long haul.
The going was tough. Given some pointers by the Herzigs, the threesome knew the right place to start looking and a general idea what to do. About once a week for nearly ten years, they made the 45 minute trip from the Maryland suburbs to the heart of Washington, D.C. and vicinity to spend 4-8 hours of painstaking research.
Their process went like this: On occasion, the day before the research was to take place, they would drive down to the National Archives and fill out a request form. By doing this, the boxes of materials would be ready for them almost right away when they showed up the next morning -- otherwise, they had to wait 1/2 a day for the approval and retrieval to take place. Each box had a unique reference number assigned and contained labeled folders. Each folder contained papers. They tackled each box by reading every piece of paper in each folder.
The documents were mostly fragile and yellowing on thin, sometimes transparent paper. In some cases, the paper was brittle and nearly deterioriating in their hands. And the dust was so bad sometimes that it irritated Maggie's allergies. When handling photographs, they were required to wear special gloves that made handling especially difficult.
At first, they just chased down anything that mentioned the 100th Battalion or the 442nd ; but then they realized there was lots of information missing. To get the whole story, they had to read the papers of General Marshall, Earl Warren, the Secretary of the Navy, the Surgeon General, etc. To ensure nothing was overlooked, they even pored over every military organization to which the 100th or 442nd was assigned. The whole ordeal was a painful learning process. Because they were paying for all expenses out of their own pockets, they spent months making handwritten summaries of the documents to send to Hawaii. They eventually devised a systematic process for documenting the box numbers and folders where every scrap of information was found. Everything was sent to Ted Tsukiyama in Hawaii, who was so was pleased that he convinced the 442nd to defray the group's costs. That decision allowed them to use the photocopying machine, which greatly helped their efficiency.
Over the course of the ten years, the researchers were exposed to every aspect of the Nissei's experience. According to Fumie Yamamoto, she was struck by how telling the archives' information was. She recalls reading how the "Lost Battalion", which had been short of food, ammunition, batteries, etc. radioed back to the units who were trying to air drop resupplies: "…the airplanes are giving away our position!…Don't send us anything…" It was a stark statement of how desperate the situation really was for the men of the "Lost Battalion."
At some point, the purpose of the threesome's research effort changed from strictly providing information for a 442nd library to providing supporting information for the "medal" review led by Ed Ichiyama and sponsored by Senator Akaka's office. The rest is history…
In the end, over a period of 10 years, they made hundreds of trips to the National Archives, spent over a thousand hours of their own time, read thousands and thousands of pages of documents and sent back to Hawaii over 10 boxes of material.For their efforts, the 442nd Club presented Richard "Sus" Yamamoto with a Letter of Appreciation and a medal. The President and the Secretary of the Army invited them to the ceremonies honoring the Medal of Honor recipients in Washington, D.C.
Sadly, while the research work for the Medal of Honor effort is closed, the original research remains unfinished. Due to health reasons, their visits to the National Archives ceased in January 1999. A tremendous amount of information still resides in the boxes of the National Archives and elsewhere, waiting to be copied and sent back to the 442nd Club for its library. Unfortunately, some papers are not filed in the National Archives…the threesome have learned that some veterans failed to turn in their unit documents at the end of the war. They need only mail the documents to the National Archives and the papers will be forwarded to the proper place. The Yamamotos hope these people will turn in to archives so that posterity can better understand and appreciate what took place.www.javadc.org