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Nisei Impact: World War II veteran, 99, recounts experience that earned his first Purple Heart distinction

COURTESY LISA KANESHIRO 
                                Shane Kaneshiro, left, a McKinley High School JROTC cadet, and Jack Nakamura, behind the protective plastic barrier, celebrate Nakamura’s 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.
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COURTESY LISA KANESHIRO

Shane Kaneshiro, left, a McKinley High School JROTC cadet, and Jack Nakamura, behind the protective plastic barrier, celebrate Nakamura’s 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.

SHANE KANESHIRO / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Jack Nakamura is delighted to celebrate his 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.
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SHANE KANESHIRO / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

Jack Nakamura is delighted to celebrate his 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.

STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Shane Kaneshiro
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STAR-ADVERTISER

Shane Kaneshiro

COURTESY LISA KANESHIRO 
                                Shane Kaneshiro, left, a McKinley High School JROTC cadet, and Jack Nakamura, behind the protective plastic barrier, celebrate Nakamura’s 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.
SHANE KANESHIRO / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Jack Nakamura is delighted to celebrate his 99th birthday at Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani.
STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Shane Kaneshiro

Editor’s note: Nisei Impact is a youth storytelling project led by the Honolulu Star- Advertiser and the nonprofit Nisei Veterans Legacy. Each day this week, we will publish a story, written by a high school student, about the nisei veterans in our families and communities.

On a typical day, Jack Seitoku Nakamura, a 100th Infantry Battalion nisei veteran, wakes up and has a good breakfast and sings harmonious tunes that radiate throughout his Good Samaritan Society Pohai Nani cottage in Kaneohe.

Nakamura then chuckles and apologizes to the nurses who listen for his singing and know where to find him.

“I am sorry. I can’t hear too well. A bomb fell next to me,” explains the 99-year-old Nakamura.

His favorite songs are Hawaiian and Japanese tunes such as “Koko Ni Sachi Ari,” as well as songs by Edith Piaf, a well-known French singer.

>> RELATED: Nisei Impact: Honolulu Star-Advertiser youth storytelling project honors Hawaii’s Japanese American World War II veterans

When Nakamura was honored with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor) in January 2015 for helping to liberate France from the Nazis during World War II, he proudly sang the American and French anthems.

Nakamura says he faced discrimination when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“Oh, boy, I had a bad time. They look at me and they call me Jap, Jap, Jap,” Naka­mura recalls.

To prove his loyalty as an American, at age 19, Naka­mura enlisted in the U.S. Army. He stood in formation on the grounds of Iolani Palace for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team farewell ceremony and was sent to train at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. He then traveled by boat to Casablanca, North Africa, before reaching Anzio, Italy.

In vivid detail, Nakamura recounts his first battle and how he earned his first Purple Heart.

As the Germans shot artillery shells, one of the shells hit the shack where Naka­mura and two others were hiding. The blast instantly killed Yoshio Nozaki. Naka­mura’s buddy was thrown 40 feet, and Nakamura, 30 feet. He was unconscious and blinded for a while due to the blood that was in his eyes.

“The bomb is so loud, it’s deafening. I thought I was dead. They gave me good lickins,” he laughs.

After the liberation of Italy and France, Nakamura was assigned to guard a platoon of German prisoners of war, one of whom inquired, “You look like a Japanese. What are you doing in an American uniform?”

Nakamura proudly announced, “I was born and raised in America, so I am an American.”

Recalling the joyous celebrations of gratitude from the French following the liberation, Nakamura provides delightful accounts of children cheering for “Chocolat! Chocolat!” as he gave them American chocolate.

“The children loved it,” he says.

“I am not a hero,” Naka­mura insists. He says he did his job well and nothing more.

After the war, working at Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Nakamura needed a haircut, so he entered a beauty shop where he met Alice Hisae Matsuoka. She refused to serve him since she only did women’s hair. But, Nakamura says, “I wanted her to be my lover.”

“I chased and chased my (future) wife,” he says. Then one day she stopped putting him off “and we got married!”

They had two children, Allan and Pauline, and three grandchildren, Brandon, Kelli-Rae and Stacy. “I have such good and beautiful children and grandchildren,” Nakamura says.

As a sansei, or third-­generation Japanese American, Allan Nakamura embraces his father’s selfless values and has the utmost filial respect for him.

“He gave me everything I wanted, so it’s my turn to give back,” Allan says.

“I am 99 years old. I can’t do too much and cannot remember too many things,” Nakamura says.

However, he will never forget the heroic rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944, when the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team was deployed to the mountains of northeastern France to extract a Texas National Guard unit surrounded by Nazi troops.

Nakamura says that after the mission, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the Japanese American soldiers to take leave for a job well done. He says he and some of his buddies wandered around France.

“We were looking for pretty girls,” he says with a hearty laugh.

Nakamura was in utter admiration when he encountered Eisenhower.

“I stood up and saluted him. Then General Eisenhower addressed me, ‘442nd soldier, I salute you. You did a good job.’

“Wow!” Nakamura says. “I was so happy! I was proud to have met General Eisenhower. I will always remember that for the rest of my life.”


Shane Kaneshiro is a sophomore at McKinley High School.


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