“When we got to Manzanar, it was getting dark and we were given numbers first. We went down to the mess hall, and I remember the first meal we were given in those tin plates and tin cups. It was canned wieners and canned spinach. It was all the food we had, and then after finishing that we were taken to our barracks.
It was dark and trenches were here and there. You’d fall in and get up and finally got to the barracks. The floors were boarded, but the were about a quarter to half inch apart, and the next morning you could see the ground below.
The next morning, the first morning in Manzanar, when I woke up and saw what Manzanar looked like, I just cried. And then I saw the mountain, the high Sierra Mountain, just like my native country’s mountain, and I just cried, that’s all.
I couldn’t think about anything.”
— Yuri Tateishi, Manzanar Relocation Center
Note: photo is of members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags were used to help keep family units intact during all phases of evacuation.
Kazuo Otani was born in Visalia, a small town of a few thousand in California, to parents who were immigrants from Japan.
He was living in the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona when he enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII. The group, made up mostly of Japanese Americans, would become one of the most decorated units of its size.
As a soldier, “Staff Sergeant Kazuo Otani distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 15 July 1944, near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Advancing to attack a hill objective, Staff Sergeant Otani’s platoon became pinned down in a wheat field by concentrated fire from enemy machine gun and sniper positions. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Staff Sergeant Otani left his cover and shot and killed a sniper who was firing with deadly effect upon the platoon. Followed by a steady stream of machine gun bullets, Staff Sergeant Otani then dashed across the open wheat field toward the foot of a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the movement of the platoon drew heavy enemy fire, he dashed along the cliff toward the left flank, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Staff Sergeant Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. At this point, one of his men became seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Staff Sergeant Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground in full view of the enemy. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Staff Sergeant Otani proceeded to render first aid treatment, but was mortally wounded by machine gun fire.”
For his actions, Kazuo was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 2000.
Note: The writing on the photograph says “To Mom & Dad” in the upper left corner and “your son! Kazuo” in the bottom right.
“I was told he had come back from playing and found his house a shambles—his mother, father and brother dead under the rubble…he was looking up at the sky, his face an expression of both confusion and defiance. The defiance made him look like a young Winston Churchill.”
– Toni Frissell
Notes: photo taken in London in 1945. The boy survived the war and became a truck driver.
Despite Sammy’s desperate battle to live, he slipped away just as morning broke. It broke my heart. Desperately tired, hungry, and sick of the misery and futility of war, I wept uncontrollably, my tears falling on poor Sammy’s bandaged remains. Later this morning, our long overdue ambulance came to retrieve us. I couldn’t bear to leave Sammy; I sat on the ambulance floor next to his litter and held his corpse as we bounced over the pockmarked roads on his last trip to Graves Registration. When he died, part of me died too. His magnificent singing voice was stilled forever, but ‘til the end of my days, I will still hear him say, ‘Nurse, you have a smile like a whooooole field of sunflowers.’
So sadly, June.
Letter dated April 7th, 1945. Germany.
Note: June Wandrey, from Wautoma, Wisconsin, was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during WWII. She served in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany from 1942 to 1946. She described Sammy as a “young, handsome, black-haired, married, Italian-American enlisted infantryman [with] an angelic singing voice.”
Source: War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Carroll