Japanese-American WWII hero to honor heroes in parade

(TNS) — Seventy years after he was shot in the face by a German sniper, 96-year-old Roy Fujiwara will represent his fellow nisei soldiers when he rides a Tournament of Roses Parade float on New Year’s Day honoring Japanese-American soldiers who served in World War II.

Fujiwara, who lives in the Ala Moana area and is paying his own way to Pasadena, Calif., received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on April 5, 1945, in the Apennine Mountains of Italy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s L Company.

But Fujiwara wants his appearance on the city of Alhambra’s “Go For Broke”?float to honor other nisei — or second-generation Japanese-American — soldiers, including the 21 Medal of Honor winners whose images will appear on the float.

The float will pass in front of 700,000 people lining the 126th Tournament of Roses Parade route in front of 75 million people watching on televisions around the world.

The theme of this year’s parade is “Inspiring Stories,” and Fujiwara’s is just one of thousands that make up the stories of the 442nd, 100th Infantry Battalion and Military Intelligence Service, which collectively were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

The Rose Parade will be broadcast live on KITV at 6 a.m. Thursday and rebroadcast on the Hallmark channel beginning at 8 a.m.

The other four nisei soldiers and two alternates who were selected for the float all come from the mainland. After his wife, Sei, died two years ago, Fujiwara moved from his home in Seattle to live with his son, Todd, who co-owns a King Street shiatsu massage business.

Fujiwara believes the exploits of the soldiers from the 442nd, 100th Battalion and MIS are well known by now.

But Don Nose, president of the Go for Broke National Education Center in Torrance, Calif., said “it’s an incredible story that’s still not known nationally.”

“As we see less and less of the World War II vets, people are now appreciating how incredible the Japanese-American World War II story is,” Nose said.

For years, the Alhambra City Council and Mayor Gary Yamauchi lobbied to honor nisei veterans in the parade, Nose said.

With this year’s theme being “Inspiring Stories,” the time finally felt right, Nose said.

The city’s 41-foot float will appear third along the 5.5-mile parade route and will feature a re-creation of the “Go For Broke” monument in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles that’s engraved with the names of more than 16,000 men, women and officers who served with the 442nd, 100th Infantry Battalion and Military?Intelligence Service.

The veterans will sit on a bench on the float during the more than two-hour-long parade. Fujiwara plans to wear a vest over a white shirt and a maroon garrison cap that reads, “Nisei Seattle, Washington.” He also plans to bring a 442nd jacket that says “L Company.”

Growing up in Seattle, Fujiwara had been a state track champion running hurdles and the 100-yard dash and later played semi-pro baseball as a pitcher.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Fujiwara’s family was shipped off to the Minidoka and Tule Lake Japanese-American internment camps while Fujiwara enlisted in the Army on Jan. 19, 1942.

“I was with the Caucasian boys,” he said.

But as the 442nd racked up more and more casualties, Fujiwara was sent to join the segregated unit in Camp Shelby, Miss., in 1944.

At 5-foot, 6-inches tall and 145 pounds, Tech Cpl. Fujiwara was one of the bigger soldiers in L Company and was assigned to lug a Browning Automatic Rifle, which he hauled up the 3,000-foot Apennine Mountains to break through the German stronghold known as the “Gothic Line” that the allies had been unable to dent during months of fighting.

“He used to tell me that only the biggest guys carry the BAR,” said Fujiwara’s son, Todd, 63. “I laughed until he showed me a picture of his platoon and, sure enough, he and his best friend were the tallest guys.”

The 442nd originally was assigned to act as a diversion to attract German snipers manning the Gothic Line, and give an edge to the Caucasian soldiers trying to fight through it, Todd said.

Instead, the soldiers of the 442nd scaled the back side of a sheer, marble mountain in eight hours and surprised the German snipers and machine gunners.

“L Company was the tip of the attacking force,” Todd said. “The battle was over in 35 minutes. That opened up the opportunity for the Americans to push the Germans back to Germany. The next month, the war ended in Europe.”

But in those 35 minutes, a German sniper killed eight 442 soldiers and hit Fujiwara with a bullet that ripped below his right eye, came out near his ear and tore through his right shoulder, leaving him permanently deaf and ruining any chance of resuming his pitching career.

“It hit me right below my glasses,” Fujiwara said. “If it was 2 inches higher, I would have lost my right eye. It didn’t even break my glasses. But it came out of the back of my ear and into my right shoulder.”

During his recovery, Fujiwara had his jaw wired shut for a month and lost nearly 50 pounds.

“I was at my so-called fighting weight of 145 pounds but I went down to 98 pounds eating nothing but Jell-O and eggs, Jell-O and eggs, Jell-O and eggs,” he said. “I couldn’t eat any meat with my mouth wired shut.”

Even though he was honored for his actions in Italy, Todd Fujiwara said his father is most proud of the 442nd’s seven presidential unit citations.

And on New Year’s Day in front of millions of people, the elder Fujiwara will be even prouder to represent the nisei soldiers who never came home.

“I have to honor my fallen comrades,” Fujiwara said. “I am not a hero. They are the heroes.”


©2014 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC


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Japanese-American WWII hero to honor heroes in parade
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