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'We did our part'

Masuda Middle School's namesake died fighting the Nazis in 1944. Nearly 70 years later, his brother awaits posthumous Congressional medal.

November 02, 2011|By Michael Miller
  • A Japanese Memorial Garden sits the middle of Kazuo Masuda Middle School in Fountain Valley, honoring World War II Congressional Gold Medal recipient Sergeant Kazuo Masuda, whom the school was named after. The garden, originally built in 1977 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and later redone, includes many traditional elements, including every plant being native to Japan, a stone Pagoda and a Buddha that was chosen because he was a protector of children.
A Japanese Memorial Garden sits the middle of Kazuo Masuda… (STEVEN GEORGES,…)

Masao Masuda keeps a notebook in his dining room drawer containing a photo of the last time he saw his brother Kazuo.

The picture, which Masao took in 1941, shows Kazuo and their brother Takashi, along with several sisters and a niece, at the Santa Fe Depot ready to board the train for camp. The brothers were drafted on the same day in October. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor two months later.

Those two events set off a chaotic half-decade for the Masudas, one of the Japanese immigrant families who came to farm the land that later became Fountain Valley. The night after Pearl Harbor, Orange County sheriff's deputies took their father away for questioning. Days later, after an FBI interrogation, he was confined for five months at a stockade in Montana.

The entire family soon found itself in a similar situation, as the government shipped them from Fresno to Arkansas to Arizona while the sons risked their lives overseas.

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"That was a dirty deal for us, being a citizen," said Masao, 94, a retired farmer who still lives in Fountain Valley. "They took our civil rights away and put us in an internment camp."

Wednesday, the Masuda brothers received a much better deal for being citizens. The government awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to every member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service — collectively known as the "Go for Broke" troops — who served in World War II.

For Kazuo, who has a Fountain Valley middle school and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post named after him, it will be another recognition among many. But the Congressional Gold Medal, like so many of those honors, will be a posthumous one: The Huntington Beach High School graduate died in August 1944 on a night patrol in Italy.

So it will be up to his family, again, to receive his award for him. Masao, the only survivor among 11 siblings, plans to arrange to have the medals shipped to him in Fountain Valley.

"Oh, yes, he would have been proud," Masao said. "We're all proud. We did our part in the war."

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Hard-won decorations

In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the internment of Japanese Americans, and about 110,000 were soon moved to war relocation camps. Even while young men like the Masuda brothers faced prejudice at home, though, they proved invaluable to the war effort.

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