CALIFORNIA

Activists are asking the U.S. for a stamp honoring Japanese American soldiers during WWII

To mark the 75th anniversary of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, a group of California activists is calling on the U.S. government to honor them with a postage stamp.

The Stamp Our Story campaign has spent the last decade petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate the service of Japanese American soldiers, many of whom were drafted out of internment camps and fought abroad while their families were incarcerated back home.

And now, the group says, is the right time for the stamp to be released.

"We really want to see the stamp next year to coincide with the 75th day of remembrance for the internment," said Wayne Osako, coordinator and co-chair of Stamp Our Story. "That's an important year for the campaign and for American history."

Stamp Our Story started in 2005, with a group of three Japanese American women in California who had been incarcerated during World War II.

Fusa Takahashi, 88, grew up in a Japanese farming community in the San Joaquin Valley. She was interned along with her parents and six brothers and sisters in 1942. One thing that stuck with her from that time was how many young men her age — including her future husband — enlisted in the U.S. Army straight out of the camps.

"I had classmates, friends and friends' brothers who were killed in action," she said. "At the time, I thought, 'Jeez, isn't it terrible that they made the ultimate sacrifice when we were imprisoned behind barbed wire?'"

Decades later, Takahashi, Chiz Ohira and Aiko King decided they needed to do something to honor these veterans, whose experience had been unlike any other American soldier but who are rarely recognized for their service.

"We were at the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles and saw an exhibit about nisei soldiers and their accomplishments," Takahashi said, using the Japanese word for second-generation Japanese Americans. "Exhibits are nice, but they don't reach the broader audience, and I wanted something that would raise awareness to the public."

That's how she settled on a stamp.

"A stamp is universal and it's something tangible," she said. "For our future generation, I want them to be proud of what they are, where they come from and what their heritage is."

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japanese Americans were considered a threat. Two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. In addition, Japanese American men of draft age were classified as "enemy aliens" and prohibited from serving in the military.

But in 1943, Roosevelt — in need of more troops to fight in the war — lifted the ban and created a segregated unit of Japanese American soldiers.

In 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to Japanese American World War II veterans.

Although the forces behind the Stamp Our Story campaign were pleased — Takahashi attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. — getting a stamp is still important, said Osako, who also had nisei relatives who served in World War II.

"The stamp reaches people through a basic, everyday level," he said. "Some people don't know what the Gold Medal is. Their ceremony was televised, but the everyday person may not know that. But if someone receives a letter in the mail with the stamp, they can look at that stamp and learn a little bit about these soldiers' story."

Mark Saunders, a Postal Service spokesman, said the agency is considering the proposal.

caitlin.kandil@latimes.com

Kandil writes for Times Community News.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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