“Facing the mountain”; New book tells the story of Hillyard’s WWII veteran
SPOKANE, Washington – At the end of 2019 we heard about the coronavirus spreading in China and it looked like the next thing we knew, the virus was knocking on our door. The first known case in the United States was in Washington.
We took precautions, locked ourselves in and masked ourselves. Closure of shops and restaurants. The president called it the “Chinese virus” and the “kung flu”. The streets of the city emptied and as the virus spread, something else happened.
In the past year, crimes against Asian Americans have exploded, with numerous attacks taking place in plain sight of the city’s streets.
This is not the first time that Asian Americans have walked lighter or spoken more calmly in their own cities. Even Americans who fought bravely for our freedom felt out of place in the same region where they were born.
Hillyard, December 7, 1941—Fred Shiosaki, 17, was running on the track at Rogers High School, living with his parents and siblings in the apartment above his parents’ laundry room and listening to the radio when the bombs hit Pearl Harbor.
“And we heard this story about the Japs this and the Japs that,” Shiosaki said.
4 News Now interviewed Shiosaki in 2006, where he explained that day to us in 1941.
“I think I felt vulnerable. I didn’t know what was going to happen, ”said Shiosaki.
He stayed home from school the next day. People have stopped doing business at the laundromat. Then the leaders of the Japanese community disappeared.
“The FBI came down and chose [the leaders] and they were gone. And they ended up in these, you know, this Arizona detention camp, ”Shiosaki said.
Fred actually tried to join the military. Men his age were being enlisted.
“And so I went down in August… yeah, 1942, and I signed up, and of course I turned out to be a 4-C, ineligible to be drafted – ‘alien enemy’, or something like that,” Shiosaki said.
“Much of their lived experience seems so relevant to what’s going on in the country right now,” said author Daniel James Brown.
Brown wrote a book about Fred and several other Japanese American men who fought in World War II called Facing the mountain.
“[There were] phrases and tropes that have been applied to Asian Americans, comparing them to insects, vermin and disease, ”Brown said.
Brown sat down with Fred several years ago.
“Oh, Fred was – Fred is a very fiery guy,” Brown said. “In fact, his father complained because he kept having to buy new pairs of glasses for Fred because he came home with his glasses broken.
Fred graduated from high school, and since he couldn’t go to war, he went to college, down the street to Gonzaga University. This was the case until August 1943.
“I think looking back on it, I just felt like I had to get involved in some way or another,” Shiosaki said.
The army opened a volunteer unit consisting of all Japanese soldiers – the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fred signed up and traveled to Europe to face some of the war’s most intense battles, just a year later.
“Until you experience it and survive it, you can’t describe what’s going on,” Shiosaki said.
The 442nd and Shiosaki’s group, K Company, fought in Italy, France and Germany.
“It’s on the job training, and it’s a matter of being quick or dead,” Shiosaki said.
In France, Compagnie K will participate in the famous rescue of the “Lost Battalion”; a brutal weeklong fight to free Americans, mostly Texans, trapped behind enemy lines.
“And just… artillery coming in, and rifle fire, small arms fire.” And my God, as I started this slope, I see this kid that I was friends with, shot in the head. Jesus, I don’t know, ”Shiosaki remembers.
As friends died around him, a mortar exploded in a tree above Fred’s head, sending shrapnel shrapnel at him.
“And the doctor corrects it, puts something on it – that’s it, so we continue,” Shiosaki said.
When the shooting finally stopped, Fred said, the silence was deafening.
“My God, it’s done. I don’t know, there was hardly anyone left, ”Shiosaki said.
“Their company was about 200 people and they came down from that mountain and there were only 17 still walking,” Brown said.
They didn’t know they had won a battle that will be talked about across Europe. Films would be made on their attack on “Suicide Hill”.
“No, there weren’t any ‘hey we’re gonna save these guys’ kind of thing. No one has ever told us that. But then you are stupid, stupid infantrymen; what is it, ”Shiosaki said. “I don’t think we’ve ever felt heroic about it. It wasn’t long after we realized what had happened up there.
Fred won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before the war ended. He said that when the war finally ended, it was no surprise.
“The war is over, and God, you think, ‘Geez. Well I did it, I think I did it, ”Shiosaki said.
Fred returned to Spokane, back to the apartment above the laundry room and returned to GU, this time as an American hero. He fought for freedom abroad and for freedom at home.
“The sacrifices of our parents and the sacrifices of the men of the 442nd were our way of gaining this freedom. The right to be called an American, not a hyphenated American and I guess that’s my message to everyone; that you don’t – this stuff isn’t given to you, you earn it. Every generation wins it in one way or another, ”Shiosaki said.
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