Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
“American Grit: From a Japanese American Concentration Camp Rises an American War Hero,” chronicles the life of Shiro “Kash” Kashino, who volunteered from the Minidoka War Relocation Center for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He fought in one of the most famous battles in American military history, “The Rescue of the Lost Battalion,” where he distinguished himself for bravery and care for the men under his command.
Author John Suzuki grew up on the continental U.S., but his family lived outside of the military exclusion zone and was not affected by the incarceration of the Nikkei community during World War II. In the introduction, he explains how his visit to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in 2008 inspired him to tell the story of the incarceration and the many young Nisei (second generation) men who volunteered from the camps for the U.S. Army to prove their loyalty to the United States of America.
Researching soldiers from the internment camps, he came across the story of Kashino, only to learn that he had passed away in 1997. Undaunted, he reached out to his widow, Louise, who agreed to collaborate with him on the book project. Louise shared that her husband was so humble that he would not have agreed to the book while alive.
Shiro Kashino was born in Seattle, Washington, on January 19, 1922, the son of Fujinotsuke and Hatsune Kashino, and the youngest of six children. The elder Kashino worked for a company servicing Japanese railroad workers in Montana and Wyoming. Both parents passed away when Kashino was a young boy, and he came under the care of his oldest sister, Fumi.
He developed a feisty personality and got into fistfights when encountering racial taunts such as being called a “Jap.” At 5-foot 10-inches and 180 pounds, he was large for a Japanese and a gifted athlete, excelling in baseball and football in high school.
Kashino was 20 years old when the war began and the evacuation order to implement Executive Order 9066 was issued. Like most Nikkei families in the Seattle and Puget Sound area, the Kashinos were ordered to a collection center euphemistically called, “Camp Harmony” at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, 20 miles south of Seattle. The fairgrounds had been hastily converted into a confinement facility with inadequate living conditions. It was there that Kashino met 16-year-old Louise Tsuboi.
In July 1942, Kashino volunteered for an advance party to the Minidoka War Relocation Center near Twin Falls, Idaho, to assist with its completion. They worked seven days a week in grueling hot conditions to get the camp ready for the Camp Harmony evacuees. Kashino’s natural leadership emerged, and he urged his co-workers to overcome the difficult working conditions to make the camp more hospitable for the other evacuees.
Volunteering to Serve
While the Japanese communities on the west coast were being rounded up at the various collection centers, the Army began a grand experiment: the formation of an all-Japanese Army unit. In May 1942, a group of some 1,400 Nisei men, most drafted in the period before the attack on Pearl Harbor, were secretly removed from O‘ahu and sent to the mainland for training. Upon arriving in the Bay Area, they learned that they had been designated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The term “Separate” indicated that they were a stand-alone unit not affiliated with any brigade or division.
Due to the superb training record of the 100th Infantry Battalion and faced with pressing manpower needs to fight a war on two fronts, the War Department established the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in February 1943, requesting young Nisei men to volunteer. When the call for volunteers reached the incarceration camps, sentiments were divided between those anxious to prove their loyalty to the U.S. and those resenting being uprooted from their lives and incarcerated for no cause other than their ethnicity. Kashino had no reservations about volunteering, and Louise supported his decision.
Preparing for War
Reporting to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training, Kashino encountered the cultural and language differences between the mainlanders and men from Hawai‘i. These differences threatened the experiment of an all-Japanese fighting unit until a visit to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas exposed the Hawai‘i soldiers to the conditions that mainland families were experiencing as prisoners of their own country. This visit, with the resulting understanding and empathy for what the families of the mainland soldiers were experiencing, dissipated the differences between the two groups creating a cohesive fighting unit.
Kashino quickly advanced to the rank of staff sergeant. His scrappy nature developed through many fistfights growing up and encouraging words inspired loyalty in the men under his command. He volunteered for the most difficult and dangerous tasks both in training and in battle, never expecting others to do anything he wouldn’t do.
Combat in Europe
Wounded in his initial combat in Italy, he left the hospital without approval rather than get left behind as the 442nd moved on to France. He fought in the liberation of Bruyères and Biffontaine in eastern France before the 442nd was ordered back into battle to rescue a National Guard battalion from Texas who were trapped behind enemy lines. The “Rescue of the Lost Battalion” is considered one of the top ten battles in American military history and solidified the 442nd RCT’s reputation as one of its most notable combat units.
Through research, interviews of fellow soldiers and visiting the battleground sites, Suzuki pieced together the details of Kashino’s exploits during the five-day battle. At one point, Kashino was ordered by his battalion commander to lead a group of volunteers to deliver much needed supplies to the battlefield. Kashino felt that the group would be subjected to German artillery fire and advised his commander to delay the order. He was overridden and when the group was devastated by enemy artillery as he had predicted, he snapped and admonished the commander. This act of insubordination would haunt Kashino for the rest of his life. Just how will not be revealed in this article.
After his discharge, Kashino married Louise in 1945, and after a brief period living in Chicago, they found their way back to Seattle where they lived out the rest of their lives. There they encountered racial discrimination in housing and employment. Loyal and brave military service did not tear down the walls of prejudice as many had hoped. After being denied membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Nisei veterans formed the Nisei Veterans Committee, whose Memorial Hall is on the fringe of the International District of Seattle.
Despite these challenges, Kash and Louise carved out a happy and successful life for themselves and their three daughters. Kashino had his way paid to Hawai‘i for the first 442nd RCT reunion in 1953 by his fellow veterans since they felt he needed to attend. Such was the esteem he was held in by his former comrades in arms.
Kashino was one of the 442nd RCT’s most decorated members. He received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star Medal with “V” (for Valor) Device, Purple Heart with five oak leaf clusters (equivalent to six Purple Hearts) and a Good Conduct Medal amongst his personal decorations.
In the tradition of many Nisei veterans, Kashino continued his service after the war. In the 1970s, when many young Japanese Americans became involved in drugs, he quietly and anonymously helped many through their addictions. He was deputized by the Seattle Police Department so that he could take custody of them when they got into trouble or overdosed.
Shiro was 75 when he died in 1997. Louise was 93 when she passed away in 2019. The story of their lives illuminates the pages of “American Grit.”
Finding His Ikigai
The Japanese word ikigai translates generally to “your reason for living” or “one’s sense of purpose in life.” John Suzuki doesn’t know why he got on the bus for the pilgrimage to Minidoka many years ago, but the impact of the visit provided a long term goal and purpose for his life after retirement. He publicizes the book through discussions and podcasts in the hope that the mistreatment and incarceration of people solely because of ethnicity never happens again.
Byrnes Yamashita is a retired engineer and the vice president of the Nisei Veterans Legacy. The mission of the NVL is to preserve, perpetuate and share the legacy of the Americans of Japanese ancestry who served in the U.S. armed forces in World War II: the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. To learn more about the NVL, visit their website at nvlchawaii.org or follow them on Instagram.