Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nisei memoir of World War II

Today, filing a new biographical file folder for Dr. Paul H. Oyamada, D.M.D., I noticed that the file folder right before this new one alphabetically was labeled "Oyamoida, Abe, M.D." I knew immediately that this was a typo, and should read "Oyamada, Abe, M.D.," because Dr. Oyamada is mentioned in one of our oral history interviews. Interestingly, he is mentioned by pathologist and professor emeritus Nelson "Sam" Niles, not one of the Japanese Americans interviewed for the program.

So, I opened up the folder out of curiosity, to see what we had collected. Inside was one document: a handwritten letter from Oyamada to Dr. David W.E. Baird, written May 6, 1943. The letter begins with a note of congratulations to Dr. Baird on his recent appointment to the deanship. The rest is a very personal and very compelling account from this Japanese American physician at the height of World War II:

It was almost a year ago that we left home and said good-bye to our friends, our schoolmates at Oregon Medical School, and all the memories of friendly associations with the things we loved and the people we knew back in Portland, Oregon. During that time I have been very busy in the Center hospitals working up and assisting in the in-patient cases so that the passage of time was hardly noticed.

Now, I'm glad to tell you that at last I'm going to be able to do something--directly and personally--to help win the war for America.

President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson opened up the Army again to us nisei, and I'm one of the several thousand who volunteered to go out and do what we can to whip the Axis. I'm waiting my call for induction now, so that I can go down to Camp Shelby in Mississippi and train with 2600 nisei from Hawaii, and other nisei from all parts of the United States, to form a crack combat unit....

Perhaps you read in the newspaper the other day that three nisei soldiers were awarded a decoration called the Legion of Merit for valorous service. Well, those fellows are just a few of the many now serving in the Southwest Pacific, in Alaska, in North Africa, and in England, and some of them are doing highly specialized work that they are especially suited for.

Uncle Sam stopped drafting us just before evacuation last spring, but now the way is open again. It was hard to be cooped up behind barbed wires with doubts cast on our loyalty while everyone else was given a chance to defend his country. Now we consider it a duty and privilege to serve, so that when peace returns again, we can stand up beside our friends and buddies and say that we too had a share in winning the war.

I think action like this demonstrates more strongly than all the words in the world, that we resent the vicious attack on Pearl Harbor, that we hate the fascist-militarists of Tokyo, and that we want to have a part in making the world safe for the American way of life that we love so well.

In the Relocation Centers we are leaving behind are being conducted from time to time sales of war savings stamps and, when one is able to afford it, war bonds. The Center residents are getting behind these drives as strongly as their $16 or $19/month work salaries will enable them to do. In this way, these aliens and under-age children who cannot enter into the armed services, and also the women folk are doing what they can in winning the war.

Some day I hope to see you again in Portland, Oregon--perhaps I will be in the halls of the Oregon Medical School, for the hand of Destiny sometimes takes some curious turns--but it will be after I take care of some unfinished business overseas. It will be a peaceful world then, and perhaps we can pick up again all that we had to sacrifice a year ago.

Abe Oyamada
24-19-C WRA
Heart Mountain, Wyoming

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