Interviewer Robert Horsting talks with stamp campaign founders Fusa Takahashi, center, and Aiko O. King in Los Angeles, Calif., on Dec. 20, 2015. The women discussed honoring the Japanese American veterans through a National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism commemorative stamp. Photo: Wayne Osako
Efforts are currently under way to forever recognize Nisei soldiers and their sacrifices.
By Wayne Osako, Contributor
The World War II internment of Japanese Americans has been in the national spotlight after some politicians reacted to the events of recent terrorist attacks with suspicion of all Muslim immigrants, even going as far as to call for new internments. In the wake of these events, three Nisei women from California are pushing for a U.S. commemorative postage stamp featuring the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II.
The Memorial, located near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., tells the story of the internment and the 33,000 Japanese Americans who responded to wartime hysteria and prejudice against them by enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving with great valor. JACL members are being asked to help in this revived effort.
“If cartoon characters can get a postage stamp, we certainly can get a stamp that honors the inspiring story of these Americans,” explained Fusa Takahashi, one of the campaign’s founders. “Many people don’t know the Nisei soldiers’ story. The government took away their rights and imprisoned them behind barbed-wire fences, yet without hesitation, they stepped up to serve their country and became one of the most-decorated units in history.” Her late husband, Kazuo Takahashi, served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service during the war. Nisei is the Japanese word for the American-born children of immigrants from Japan.
The stamp campaign’s founders are Takahashi, 88, of Granite Bay, Calif.; Aiko O. King, 88, of Camarillo, Calif.; and Chiz Ohira, 87, of Gardena, Calif.
Takahashi and Ohira are widows of Nisei veterans. King is a longtime member of the JACL Ventura Chapter. “We are trying hard to get this done while at least some of the Nisei veterans are still around,” King explained. “There aren’t many left.”
In October 2015, the U.S. Postal Service upgraded the ladies’ proposal to “under consideration” status, which is the final step before a stamp is issued. But hundreds of other proposals are also in the same category waiting to be issued, making the last step perhaps the most difficult. Many stamp subjects that are “under consideration” never are realized. So, the ladies and their supporters are doubling all efforts now.
The trio started the Nisei World War II Stamp Campaign in 2005 with the help of many JACL members. It began with a stamp proposal focusing solely on the Nisei veterans. But in 2007, the trio learned of an internal policy that is not on the Postal Service’s public list of stamp selection rules. The hidden rule prohibits new stamps from directly honoring military units and veterans groups.
After years of trying to get the Postal Service to change this policy without success, last year the ladies decided to compromise and work within the government’s framework. The campaign’s supporters are now pushing for this Memorial stamp instead of a prohibited veteran-focused stamp.
“We support the Memorial stamp because the Nisei veterans are at the heart of the Memorial’s story,” said Takahashi. “It also has the best chance to become a stamp soon.”
Takahashi and King are childhood friends from the small California farm town of Cortez, near Turlock, Calif. Both were incarcerated at the Granada (Amache), Colorado internment camp. They saw their peers enlist in the Army from camp, but some never returned. They kept in touch over the years and started their campaign after visiting the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
“I had a few classmates and friends who were killed in action,” Takahashi said. “When Aiko and I visited the museum, they had a nice display about the Nisei soldiers, but I felt the story needed to be told to a broader audience. I later read the Eric Saul speech, ‘America at Its Best,’ and it convinced me we needed to do something. We thought of the stamp.”
Historian Eric Saul’s famous speech was originally presented at a reunion of the veterans, and in it, he outlines the motivations and the extraordinary accomplishments of the Nisei veterans.
Takahashi and King gathered with supporters on Dec. 20, 2015, in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California. There they discussed the campaign and its plans for a stamp to honor the veterans through the Memorial. The ladies were also interviewed on camera at a USC studio to document their 10-year campaign and ask for support. Parts of the interview will air on the campaign’s website (www.NiseiStamp.org) this year.
The campaign began at the grassroots level. The trio first got their friends, family and local communities to sign petitions and send letters of support. They also linked up with many JACL members, and it grew to be a nationwide effort. Six state resolutions of support for the stamp were passed in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington. The Japanese American Veterans Assn. also offered help. JAVA friends from the U.S. joined with French citizens to create a successful petition and letter-writing campaign for the stamp in Bruyeres, France, where Nisei soldiers liberated towns during the war. Past letters of support came from Congress in 2009 and from numerous national organizations including the JACL National Board and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Actor-activist George Takei voiced his support in 2007.
While the Postal Service has looked at the proposal a few times, it has yet to issue any stamps in response.
Currently, campaign organizers are seeking a Congressional Letter of Support asking the postmaster general to green light the stamp. The public is also encouraged to contact Representatives and Senators in Congress to sign the letter. The goal is to circulate it in both houses on Capitol Hill this spring. In addition, JACL members can organize locally to contact their Congress members.
After hearing campaign founder King talk, documentary producer Jeff MacIntyre was intrigued by the Nisei stamp campaign and decided to help. King stood up and spoke about the campaign after a 2015 August screening of one of his films at the Oxnard Library in California.
MacIntyre set up his own website (www.TheyDeserveAStamp.org) to further the campaign’s efforts. MacIntyre shares the goal of honoring the veterans on a stamp.
Through the combined efforts of supporters nationwide, the campaign members are working hard to see it to completion.
“It is our hope that, through the stamp, we can educate the American public about the unique heroism, sacrifices and accomplishments made by the Nisei soldiers,” said Takahashi.
The U.S. Postal Service is under the Executive Branch of government, with the president at the top.
Asked if she thinks President Barack Obama might help, Fusa replied, “If I could talk to the president, I would tell him the same thing as I told the postmaster general in a letter. It is not a complicated story, but it is very compelling and very unique in its nature. I actually did write President Obama in 2009, but I am still waiting for a response. I am sure it probably never even made it to his desk.”
Perhaps the president and the postmaster general will hear the new call to action this year with the campaign’s revived efforts. The ladies and their supporters are doing their best to make that happen.
For more information, please visit www.NiseiStamp.org or the Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/NiseiStamp.