Editor’s Note: Nisei Impact is a youth storytelling project led by the 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.
March 1943 was the start of a journey that 18-year-old Kenji Ego would never forget.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the people he thought were his friends turned their backs on him. Ego’s mother was upset toward Japan because she considered Hawaii home.
He and his mother were on the same page when it came to their loyalty to the United States. Knowing what was being said about Japanese Americans as “enemy aliens,” Ego still wanted to pledge his loyalty by signing up to become a soldier.
“I told her that it’s all right because, after all, her family lives in Japan,” Ego said. “The feeling of kindness was directed to her family in Japan.”
Ego, now 98, often thinks about his time in the military. Two years into the war, in 1943, he joined the U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team when help was needed.
“My country is and was the United States,” Ego said. “When volunteering for the 442nd, there was no why or how. There was only ‘I must join.’ I had to join because I was never a disloyal American.”
Not only did he serve his country, he became a part of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The battle in the Vosges forest in France happened near the end of his World War II service. The nisei soldiers were up against the Germans and Ego was assigned to the weapons platoon, where he volunteered on a depleted machine gun squad.
He began his training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi as a mortar gunner. During the Vosges battle, Ego was injured by shells fired from a German tank. He was left wounded and unable to continue. Afterward, Ego was transferred back to the U.S.
“Experiencing this moment was one of the most mentally painful things I had to go through,” he said. Not being able to see anyone, he was going through this alone and felt isolated from the world.
The injury was a constant reminder, in his mind, that he was unable to complete his mission.
After staying at a hospital for six months, Ego was able to make a full recovery. His feelings of despair vanished after he was able to see his mother, two sisters and brother again.
Wanting to find another profession after the war, Ego decided on pre-medicine at the University of Hawaii. But he had a change of heart when he began wildlife service on the UH campus, and that led him to switch over to marine studies.
During a voyage to the southeast Pacific to study tuna, Ego found his passion and decided to become a marine biologist.
After retiring, he leisurely lived his life in Kaneohe. Being able to go sightseeing and soak up the warm sun was something he enjoyed while traveling in his RV. Picking up new hobbies is something he made time for throughout the years.
Ego enjoyed fishing so much he even bought a boat. Another favorite activity was horseback riding with his sons and wife. His love for animals was what inspired him to get a horse; he said he owned nine of them over the years.
At 98 years old, Ego’s wartime legacy is something to be commended. His bravery kept him moving forward. Giving up was not an option, even after he was wounded. Ego put his life on the line to prove he was a true American. The opportunity to serve in the U.S. military is something he takes pride in because it was a tribute to the place he calls home.
Life is something he believes should be appreciated because you can’t go back to fix things in the past. Throughout his life, Ego learned there will never be a more perfect time than the present to take charge of that risk in front of you.
“I can never be a person who was not a soldier,” he said. “I have many fond memories in my lifetime and take the time to appreciate every moment.”
Stephanie Yeung is a freshman at Kalani High School.