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Going To War As An 'Enemy Alien:' A Japanese-American Vet Looks Back On World War II

In America, the phrase "call of duty" is most often associated with our men and women in uniform. Signing up for the military often requires a very strong sense of loyalty to your country.

What happens when that loyalty is questioned?

That was the case for many Japanese-Americans during World War II, when the U.S. was at war with Japan. Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in camps along the West Coast. The government classified them as "enemy aliens." However many young Americans born to Japanese parents still felt the need to defend their country in wartime.

One of the last surviving Japanese-American World War II veterans, Fred Shiosaki, lives in Seattle at Aegis Living, an assisted living facility. At 92, Shiosaki uses a cane to walk, but he seemed to strut into the room for his interview with Sound Effect, zinging jokes at everyone around him. 

Shiosaki’s parents immigrated from Japan at the turn of the century and ran a small laundry business in Spokane. He was a senior in high school when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Shiosaki experienced strong discrimination in his mostly white community. 
However, when the U.S. Army started a volunteer unit for Japanese-Americans, he immediately signed up. Shiosaki fought in Italy and France with the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service.

Sound Effect's Jennifer Wing spoke with Shiosaki about why he felt called to service at a time when his country was saw him as the enemy.

Sound Effect producer Allie Ferguson has been making radio for nearly 5 years. She got her start at KUOW and has since traveled the country working for national news shows including WNYC's The Takeaway and NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Allie won a 2016 Gracie Award, which celebrates women in media, for her work at KUOW. She enjoys telling surprising stories about passionate people.