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Japanese Americans turned to baseball

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Earlier this month, the United States Post Office issued stamps to honor the heroic service of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Hawaii Governor David Ige unveiled the Forever Stamp depicting Private Nisei Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto, a member of the all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion / 442nd Regimental Combat Team whose combat motto was “Go for Broke”. Yamamoto’s image comes from his photograph taken in 1944 at a train station in France.

During World War II, the Roosevelt administration viewed with suspicion Japanese American families and denied them their constitutional rights during times of forced eviction from their long-standing homes. The displaced Japanese were sent to barracks at one of 10 US resettlement detention centers. Nonetheless, even though many of their loved ones were imprisoned, the “Go for Broke” volunteer soldiers remained loyal to America and served with indomitable spirit and extraordinary valor. More than 33,000 Americans of Japanese descent fought in World War II and more than 700 were killed or wounded; the regiment received 9,000 Purple Hearts and 18,000 individual decorations.

Miles away from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, detainee Nisei, forced to live in brutal conditions, also showed great courage. Determined not to be overwhelmed by their unfavorable circumstances – “shikata ga ni”, or translated, “this cannot be helped” – the Nisei detained at Manzanar fell in love, married, had children, published the Manzanar Free Press, planted flowers and vegetable gardens, organized dances, formed teaching groups for young children, offered dental services and opened a canteen that sold cigarettes, soft drinks and non-rationed food items. . Between March 1942 and November 1945, 120,000 Americans of Japanese origin were imprisoned in Manzanar and other resettlement centers.

For the inmates, baseball was by far the most popular entertainment. The government took away the radios, the cameras of the prisoners and for the natives Issei banned their Japanese language. Detainees were only allowed to bring what they could carry in two suitcases, but they were not denied the pleasure of playing the national pastime. Quoted in Kerry Yo Nakagawa’s book, “Japanese American Baseball in California,” George Omachi said, “Without baseball, life in a camp would have been unbearable. It was humiliating and demeaning to be incarcerated in your own country. Omachi, whose family was flown from California by train to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Denson, Arkansas, would later become a Houston Astros and New York Mets scout who helped develop the Hall of Fame pitcher. Tom Seaver.

One of the great ironies of baseball camp was that the diamonds were built on the outside of the barbed wire fences that surrounded the centers. As Sab Yamata, a prisoner from Manzanar, explained, the prison guards had no reason to worry. Miles and miles of desert stretched as far as the eye could see; to escape would be futile. “Where would you run?” Yamata asked.

Once the players donned their uniforms, they traveled all over on the Greyhound Bus to play baseball, often on two-week trips. California teams have traveled to Wyoming and Colorado to play against other regional teams. Ultimately, the Free Press covered 100 men’s baseball teams and 14 women’s softball teams such as the Dusty Chicks and Montebello Gophers. Dusty Chicks all-star catcher Rosie Kakaucchi said her team were so good that when the Chicks challenged the men they won.

Nakagawa provided interesting feedback on camp baseball. At first, Nakagawa wrote, conditions were appalling and morale was low. But baseball created a positive atmosphere and helped Japanese Americans maintain their self-esteem. Fans watched the games “to bring a sense of normalcy to the futility of everyday life.”

In January 1945, Americans of Japanese descent were liberated from the camps. Although no cases of treason or espionage have been brought against former detainees, they are often still treated as traitors. Again, baseball helped them re-integrate, regroup, and slowly reintegrate into mainstream society. In Sanger, Calif., The high school baseball team fielded seven Nisei starters and won the Fresno County Championship. Dan Takeuchi recalled that when he came back from camp and secured a spot on his winning team, he knew that baseball would allow players to “do a lot of healing … and let others know that we were just going to keep going.” very positively. “

President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided letters of apology and $ 20,000 to survivors of internment camps. In the end, more than 82,000 survivors obtained redress. The apologies came four decades too late, and given the inexcusable treatment the federal government has imposed on Japanese Americans, $ 20,000 is a pittance for the hardship they endured.