Photographs by Thomas Sanders

Selected Texts

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     ANGEL ADAGIO, Performer, USO


I grew up in a family of singers. When I graduated from Hollywood High, I was chosen to sing a Victor Herbert song at the Hollywood Bowl. I worked in nightclubs during and after high school. I sang in Vegas back when it only had two hotels. To get the jobs, you had to sing both popular and classical songs because you didn’t know what would be requested. Even before I went overseas to entertain the boys, I was traveling everywhere. But the thing I loved most in my performing days was singing for the soldiers. Oh, there’s nothing like it.

There were about ten people in my USO crew—singers, dancers, a comedian, a master of ceremonies. We couldn’t wear dresses when we were overseas; we had to wear uniforms, very nice jackets and pants. At night we put on the glamorous stuff. I remember singing the song “Embraceable You” because the sailors requested it all the time. Sometimes we performed for five hundred people, sometimes we played for a group of ten. Once I sang and played the ukulele for two soldiers guarding a bridge.

Frank Adagio was an adorable dancer in my crew. He was very talented, and all the women loved dancing with him. He was quite short, however, and sometimes men who were six feet tall would come over while we were dancing and say, “May I have this dance?” But I fell madly in love with him, and we ended up married for sixty years.

We were stationed in the Moana Hotel in Hawaii for five months before we started traveling the islands in the Pacific. I was never homesick, and I loved every moment. There was only one time when I got scared, and that was in Guam. A siren went off and we were driven up a hill to an air shelter. It ended up being a hurricane, and we stayed in the shelter with all the navy guys for three days—food rationing, cots, the whole experience. I felt like one of the boys.

It wasn’t just sing-y and it wasn’t just dance-y—real stuff was going on. We performed in hospitals—sometimes where the boys were badly hurt. The first time we went into the wards, the nurses warned us, “Now, you know, it won’t be real pleasant.” Well, we found it absolutely marvelous because we were helping them. One time a soldier came up to me with his head all wrapped up and said, “I’m President Truman.” The hospital staff had told us, “Whatever they tell you, believe it.” So we all said, “Oh, we’re very happy to know you, President Truman.” Every time we ran into him, we said, “How are you, Mr. President?” Someone once cried while I was singing pretty—that was hard to take. But I just had to remember that I was doing something good.

I walked into a medical tent once and didn’t see any of my fellow performers. “Where’s Frankie?” I asked out loud. All of a sudden some of medics and nurses broke into acrobatics and dancing. It was my husband and the dancers dressed in medical clothing! Another time a young soldier came over and said, “You know, I really liked the way you sing. I’d like to give you a million-dollar contract.” I said, “I’m so pleased that you like me, but I already have an agent.” That’s one thing I never forget. There were a lot of terrible things going on, but there was a surprising amount of humor.

The United Service Organizations (USO) is a nonprofit group established in 1941 with the purpose of providing morale, welfare, and recreation services to U.S. military personnel.


 BOB FIGUEROA, Signalman, U.S. Navy


I started out on a tanker in the Armed Guard unit, who were Navy personnel serving on merchant ships. They were the ones that brought in the ammunition, the food, the tanks, the aircraft. The merchant ships came in because the Navy didn’t have enough freighters. We helped organize and protect them. Our motto was “We aim to deliver”—and we did. General MacArthur said that if it wasn’t for the Merchant Marine fleet, we couldn’t have won the war.

I had to learn international signaling, which was different than Navy code. On top of that, I was the only Mexican American signalman, and there was a bit of anxiety in the beginning—but once we started working as a team, everybody forgot who they were and did the job.

I became used to doing things that they didn’t teach us in signal school. For instance, once we were anchored to an island in the South Pacific and I saw a cloud hovering above. At dusk, the cloud began to flash. I thought it was a lightning storm until I realized that the cloud was sending out call letters via Morse code. Every ship had four call letters, and I realized the cloud was blinking mine. They didn’t teach us that in school, but I shined my light at the cloud and communicated back to the ship on the other side of the island.

Eventually, I was transferred to the U.S.S. Tucson, an anti-aircraft cruiser. When I came onboard as Petty Officer Second Class, right out of the Armed Guard, there was a little apprehension. I was put in charge of signal watch, and there were men on the ship that felt like they should have been assigned the job. When I thought that the signal bridge needed to be swabbed, I would tell them, “Here, you gotta swab the deck.” But then I would swab right there with them. I never gave an order that I wasn’t willing to follow myself. It took two weeks for everyone to warm up to me, and there were no problems after that.

The Tucson was part of the Third Fleet task force commanded by Bull Halsey. He needed to pull off a raid off northern Japan on Honshu, Hokkaido, and selected some radiomen that were experts at faking signals. Halsey had the Tuscon turn around and go south, the opposite way, sending fake radio signals, pretending we were the Missouri, which was a big battleship. We were trying to fool the Japanese into thinking we were going to hit Southern Japan. Apparently it worked, because when Halsey raided the north, they had no defenses in place. After we did our job, we turned around and joined the fleet in bombarding the island.

I didn’t get a medal for that, because it was a classified mission and they don’t give medals for something that wasn’t supposed to have happened. I did get a medal for saving a Liberty ship when we were up in the Aleutian Islands. During a horrible storm, the ship rode the coast of the waves and started to crack in half. The engine room reported that it was starting to see daylight! It was foggy but I signaled relentlessly all day long and into the next day, until another ship found us and escorted us to a Dutch harbor.

The men on the Liberty ship came onboard and wanted to meet the signal crew, to congratulate the men who did their jobs so well. Our communication officer said, “That’s our crew right there.” They looked at me and said, “You mean that one little guy over there, he did all that?” And he said, “Yep. We only got one signalman, and he’s it.”

A service branch of the U.S. Navy established during World War II, the Armed Guard was tasked with defending Allied merchant ships from enemy attack.

The Third Fleet was formed in 1943 and commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey during World War II, leading campaigns in the Pacific War against Japan.

Built by welding (rather than riveting) prefabricated sections together, Liberty ships were relatively inexpensive and easy to manufacture, and played an important role as cargo ships during World War II.



         DON SEKI, Corporal, U.S. Army


I was born in Oahu, Hawaii, during the Depression. We lived in the middle of a cane field in Waipahu and took care of a reservoir that irrigated the sugar cane. There was nobody to talk to or play with while I was growing up except my family. I graduated high school in June 1941, and that October, my parents decided to return to Japan for good. They were going to take me with them, but I wanted no part of Japan and remained behind by myself. I was the youngest in the family. Japanese custom is strict, and it was a big step to disobey your parents.

On December sixth, a group of us were playing poker at our teacher’s house. He was a music teacher from Wisconsin, and we took care of his lawn in exchange for spaghetti. Japanese only ate rice and fish. We seldom ate spaghetti, and thought his dinners were exotic and delicious, so we spent a lot of time there. All of a sudden, from nowhere, three Filipino laborers came up to the house and shouted, “You bomb Pearl Harbor!” And I said, “What? I’m right here. Pearl Harbor’s right over there.”

War broke out, and so did curfew and military police. I was mad that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They instantly became my enemy. We were Americans. You did anything for your country, whether you had to die or not. That was a Japanese motto. I was working construction in Pearl Harbor before the bombardment. Afterward, the local government had no power; it was all military. When the Marine MPs came, they said, “Out you go,” with a gun. They put me to work building machine gun fortifications in a field fifty miles north of Honolulu.

If the Japanese had invaded Oahu, we Nisei would have fought them. But nothing happened to Hawaii after Pearl Harbor, and we were barred from being in the armed forces. Eventually, in 1943, they told us, “You’re American now, you can volunteer.” Ten thousand Nisei volunteered. They shipped three thousand of us from Honolulu to Oakland, California. From there we traveled to Mississippi. They had never seen our kind of people down south and, of course, that meant we were a problem. When our commanding officer met us, he said, “You are not white. You are not black. But you are American!” And we proudly said, “Yes, we are!” But in downtown Hattiesburg, about twenty-five miles out of Camp Shelby, we were a problem. The local white people didn’t want us there.

In Hawaii, people were all different ethnicities and got along fine. Down south, I saw how they treated the Negro people—like dirt! We couldn’t understand that, and we didn’t like it. So we went to the black restaurant. Some of the whites told us not to go to the restaurant, not to go upstairs at the theater—all the blacks were upstairs. We said, “We can go anywhere we want, white or black.” If one guy from our group got in trouble—ohhh boy. Everybody helped out. We never damaged property, but we used to fight with them. We had a motto: “Go for broke!” When we did something, we did it all the way.

I was in the 442nd Infantry. We had just retaken Bruyères from the Germans when they told us that the Thirty-Sixth Division, the Texans, had been surrounded by Germans in the Vosges forest and they couldn’t get them out. They asked my battalion to rescue them. The Third Battalion consisted of four companies, and they sent two: Companies I and K. Each company consisted of one hundred and eighty men. When it was over, there were only eight men left in I Company and seventeen men left in K Company. The rest were injured or dead. My company was fully intact, because we’d been held in reserve. We were sent in as a “mop-up” group. On November fourth, I got hit by machine gun fire that took my arm off. Just dangling skin left. That was the end of combat for me.

 I was sent to an orthopedic hospital in Brigham City, Utah, eighty miles north of Salt Lake. It was mainly amputees, paraplegics, and paralyzed patients. We had to go through occupational therapy and physical therapy. They gave me a temporary artificial limb. I had to learn how to eat chow using the artificial limb to hold the fork. We also had to go horseback riding, and I held the reign with my artificial limb. They got us fishing reel and we fished in the government reservoir, which had plenty of trout. We took the fish to the local restaurant, and those beautiful people fried it up and gave us beer.

I wasn’t worried about my family, because I knew their farm was far up in the hills. When I got discharged around Christmas of 1946, I decided to go see my folks. The only way I could go to Japan was if I worked for the military or the federal government. I took a job as a federal employee in 1947 and eventually made it onto a propeller plane heading to Japan. From Tokyo station, I caught a locomotive train—no bullet train then—and six hours later I arrived in Fukushima. When my parents saw me, they almost wept. They said, “One wing?” And I told them, “It’s okay. I’m alive. I came home.”

Nisei is a Japanese language term for children born to Japanese immigrants in a new country. The word is formed by combining the Japanese number that corresponds to the generation (ni) with the Japanese word for generation (sei).

Camp Shelby, located in southern Mississippi, was established in 1917 as a basic training facility. It expanded vastly during World War II, ultimately offering one thousand acres of training space and hosting a convalescent hospital and prisoner-of-war camp on the grounds.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (now Infantry) was a mostly Japanese American unit that fought in the European Theater during World War II, and would go on to become the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. military. One of the unit’s most famous—and costly—victories came during the rescue of the 141st Infantry Regiment, a battalion attached to the 36th Division that had been surrounded by German forces in the Vosges region of France. After two previous unsuccessful rescue attempts, the 442nd were tasked with breaking through and rescuing the so-called “Lost Battalion.” After five days of fighting, on October 30, 1944, they succeeded, despite suffering over eight hundred casualties, including one hundred and twenty one dead.


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