Rusty Kimuraís WWII Service with the Australian Army

Rusty Kimura, a friend, volunteered from Topaz Relocation (concentration) camp. He was assigned by ATIS to the 7th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division in Bougainville Island in January 1944. There, one day, he found among captured document, a sketch indicating the time, date and place the Japanese would attack in twenty hours. He told Captain Timson, the Battalion Intelligence Officer. Captain Timson would not believe him , but told his superiors and they had Aussie troops in position, when the Japanese 17th Army attacked. This battle won by the Aussies became known as the "The Battle of Slaterís Knoll". Rusty states that no one gave him any thanks or recognition for unearthing this information. The Australians wanted Rusty to wear an Aussie uniform, but Rusty refused, saying that he was an American Ė and he wanted to die as an American; not as an Aussie. Rusty was later commissioned as a 2ndLieutenant . Belatedly, over 50 years later, Rusty was awarded the Bronze Star on May 4, 1997 at a special ceremony at Building 640, Crissy Field, San Francisco, when Building 640 was dedicated as a National Park Museum as the site of the first U.S. Military Intelligence Language School. (Source: " The Story of the Japanese Americans during World War II" by Koji Kawaguchi)


One of lifeís great ironies is the relationship between tragedy and rewards. Itís true in sports when a person in dealing with disappointment grows as a person and an athlete. And , itís part of life. Out of the bitterness of rejection and persecution can bloom a better world for those who survive it. One dramatic and heart-rending example was the holocaust. The world has never known a darker moment in history nor such human misery and waste.Yet, as a result, the surviving Jewish people gained their own political identity and were given back their own country after nearly 2,000 years as strangers in strange lands. While the loss of those who perished could never be made up, at least their sacrifice and their tradegy meant a brighter future for others of their religion. Obviously it was not the dark acts of horror which brought about the change, but it was the result of the fight against them. Itís the positive and firm reaction against challenges and tragedies which often produce the rewards of endurance and growth.

In thinking about this, I am reminded of a group of unsung American citizens who deserve our recognition and gratitude for their part in winning World War II. I am referring to the JAPANESE-AMERICAN soldiers , who were rejected by their fellow American citizens and American Government to fight for the United States. Their love of country and the American ideal was deep enough and broad enough for them to absorb the prejudice of their times and fight for the cause of LIBERTY and , hopefully more JUSTICE and UNDERSTANDING in the future.

The monument in Los Angeles was dedicated earlier this year to honor this great group of men and women. Located in Little Tokyo , it is called the "GO FOR BROKE" MONUMENT. The subtitle near the top of the moon-shaped structure is "An American Story".The city of Los Angeles donated the land and inscribed on the outside of the monument are quotes from several famous people , including President Harry S. Truman, General Douglas A.MacArthur and President Ronald W Reagan.

These thoughts blossomed in my mind this week after I received a package from a man I consider an American hero, RUSTY KIMURA. I know Rusty was the subject of a column within the last couple of years. I apologize for any repetition, but I think his story, and that of the Japanese American soldiers of World War II , deserves to be told again and again.

I first met Rusty to do an article on his sports experience at Oroville High School in Northern California in the early 1930s. Rusty had been a 5-foot 3" , 130 pound football player at Oroville, which even back then was very small. He also played basketball, baseball and participated in track and field. While I enjoyed Rustyís sports exploits, I also learned about his history as one of the thousands of NISEI soldiers who signed up in their American concentration camps to go fight for America. Almost overnight, he went from being a peaceful American citizen busy building his life to a virtual prisoner, shipped with his family to an Assembly Center on the muddy horse race track in San Francisco. He recalled seeing old women standing ankle deep in cold mud at these camps waiting to be shipped to one of the camps throughout the country.

I know there was a tremendous amount of fear in California after the attack on Pearl Harbor- I can appreciate that and donít want to be completely judgmental of a time or place where I havenít been. At the same time, it seemed like the backlash against Japanese American citizens was fueled by deep down resentments and prejudices which had existed for years. If people had overcome these negative feelings before then, perhaps the reaction after the bombing would have been more balanced, more compassionate and more logical. Anyway, Rusty grew up as a normal American citizen . He was taught by his father to love America because it was his country. Rusty recalls being sent by his mother to Japanese language lessons, but sneaking out to go hunting.

From my study, Oroville seemed to be a more tolerant community than many others of that era. Rustyís younger brother (who would also fight in World War II in the European Theater) had played sports at the city high school , following Rusty. Despite his smallness, Rusty had a heart of a lion. One day during tackling practice, the coach accidentally paired him with the biggest kid on the team, who weighed more than 244 pounds. When the coach suggested a change, Rusty refused and went through the drill with this player. He was known for tackling much bigger players by going low to knock their legs out or push them out of bounds.

After high school, Rusty set about to build his life-until December 7, 1941. That morning, Rusty and a couple of friends had been out hunting. They pulled into a gas station to buy gas with their hunting guns showing in the car. While filling up, they heard the radio report of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At first, they didnít believe it . When they realized the reports were true, they decided to get home right away. Soon, the Japanese Americans were all gathered and relocated throughout the United States. Many of them lost businesses and property, which they never regained , even after the war.

While in one of these camps, the Government reversed its rules and allowed Japanese Americans to volunteer for the Army. Rustyís attitude was one shared by many of his fellow Nisei, "Iíll show them whoís a loyal American" he recalled . So, he signed up and became part of the Military Intelligence Service , working in the Pacific Theater of the war. During the island campaigns, he served as an interpreter and interrogators of captured Japanese soldiers. He also translated any paper or maps which were captured.

Thanks to Rustyís diligence, the lives of hundreds of soldiers who served with him were saved. One experience concerned his work on a map and papers which fell into his hands. He analyzed the information as saying the Japanese forces were planning a massive surprise counter-attack the next morning. Rustyís superior didnít believe him, but Rusty insisted. Finally he convinced someone in charge to prepare for a possible attack. The soldiers were ready the next day when the Japanese attack took place right around the time Rusty had predicted. As a result , a massacre was avoided and the Australian unit drove off the attackers.

Another time, Rustyís observation noted a captured Japanese soldier had suffered a leg injury from falling off a bridge. From this information, Rusty was able to get the soldier to tell how far away his camp was. The Allies used this information to pinpoint two 105mm guns from where some snipers and mortar fire was coming. An airplane destroyed the enemy nest. In appreciation, they gave Rusty a gun sight from one of the big guns. And, so it went. Rusty was attached to an Australian unit. Several time the leaders insisted Rusty wear their uniform instead of his American one. Rusty refused , saying if he died, he wanted it to be in an American uniform. Eventually, America won the war and forced Japan into surrender.

Rusty eventually found his career and made his mark there before retiring. Now well into his 80s, Rusty is living peacefully in Southern California, near his family. He was on the Board of Directors for the "Go For Broke" Monument . Rustyís experiences and loyalty can be mirrored in thousands of other Niseis who served America. His own brother was wounded in the famous battle in which an American Japanese unit saved the "Lost Battalion" of soldiers from Texas, who had been cut off and surrounded by the enemy in France. There were over 800 casualties to the Nisei unit during the rescue effort.

I apologize for not making this more sports-related. As I said, Rusty was a high school athlete and may have gained many of his lessons of toughness and endurance and love of fair play from these experiences. He was just one of thousands of this group of American soldiers who gave so much. Through the tragedy of being denied their civil rights at the start of World War II, they fought for an American ideal in which they believed. As a result, they earned respect from many and built for their descendants a hopefully better, and fairer,life in America.

The lesson I think is clear. We can either let tragedy crumple our spirits and cause bitterness and hateóor we can fight back against it and learn new principles of forgiveness and humanity which will make us better people.

NOTE: Rusty did not want me to publish this article, but I pleaded with him saying, yes, the article is based on his war experiences , but more than that, the writer is informing the people of rural Oklahoma about the Niseis and what we did despite the treatment our Government dealt us. This article may be the only article those people will ever read about the JAís during WWII. I want to thank Rusty for finally consenting to its publication in our newsletter

COMMENT: After considerable research, Andy Bode, who resides near Brisbane Australia, strongly felt that Rusty deserved a medal from the Australian Government, but was unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain a medal for Rusty Kimura. -- Grant Ichikawa