Traveling by train to Hattiesburg, Miss., he met ironic racism. A conductor woke him and asked him to move to "a white car." In the southern city, the man who'd been held behind barbed wire in a tarpaper shack was allowed to eat in white-only restaurants.
But when he got a two-week furlough before shipping out for Europe, he was stopped from going to California to visit his family. "California was restricted for Japanese," he explains. Even in uniform, "I couldn't go."
Andow wound up with an artillery unit of the 442 in Europe. During one campaign in Italy, the Germans, as usual, held the high ground. The American artillery men were moving, silent and with no lights, through a mountain pass when the truck Andow was riding on top of tipped over. He was trapped under 200 35-pound shells. His comrades dug him out and strapped him, with a broken leg, on a stretcher in a jeep. He recovered and helped guard prisoners till war's end.
Sherman Kishi landed at the fairgrounds detention center on a memorable date -- his 17th birthday. After he turned 18 in an internment camp in Colorado, he signed up for MIS. He attended several language-training courses across the U.S. -- his Japanese was elementary -- before surfacing in the Philippines. There he helped debrief and interrogate Japanese POWs, the few who allowed themselves to be taken alive.
In September 1945, a month after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kishi arrived in Tokyo. He helped question several war criminals and disgraced industrial leaders. He was stunned by the utter destruction and near starvation hovering over the landscape.
"So many young girls were sent to the countryside with rucksacks to trade with farmers -- most came back with sweet potatoes," he remembers.
He left Japan the next year and, after college at Berkeley, came back to Livingston to pick up the pieces of his family's farm.
All three men have attended military reunions over the decades -- events which have expanded to include more and more units as the number of Japanese-American veterans dwindles. They were all sons of the soil in Merced County, following in the furrows of their fathers. And they all prospered on their own by growing almonds, grapes, peaches and, yes, sweet potatoes, including one kind imported from the Kishi family's prefecture, Wakayama.
These Nisei men, these second-generation Japanese-Americans, stand for all that's right about Mercedians. Duty. Honor. Hard work. Loyalty. If they're bitter about any part of the past, they're not saying.
They'd all do it again, they say.
And in that they stand for one of the prized virtues in Japanese culture -- gaman. That means the persistence, the stubbornness, the will to fight through tough times.
Our community should be proud of their service, both in the Army and once they came back home.
Japan's most famous poet, Basho, wrote lines in the 17th century that apply to our countrymen and countymen -- Andow, Asai and Kishi:
Journey's end --
this autumn evening.
Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or email@example.com