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Being enlisted into the Japanese Army

In these days, the army will send a representative to various high school, or schools, or group and then they’ll come to school and say, I want ten people from this age group, I want you to offer ten people and then – army - there’s another navy people comes in and hey the navy says, I want fifteen, twenty people, whatever. So when you get the order, the teacher, they’ll call – individually - and I was called to teacher - ne~ Suto - looking at my grade - well, you’re going to have a tough time, getting into college, number one, and then number two – financially. of course if I really wanted to go college, perhaps if I asked my uncle for support, I probably got my…you know, he’ll probably just say, okay go ahead. But I know, financially, for myself I wouldn’t be able to go - college. In Japan, there’s no such thing as a student loan.

So I had a choice, and then - teacher will tell you that they all want you to go to take a test of this army or whatever the case may be, and then with a few other people we go together - they take a test on certain days – we all go. No questions asked - it’s really not, it’s not forced into it, but to me, at the time when I was asked, there were no questions asked, yes, I just have to go to honor that request. My teacher’s request - because if the teacher does not produce the ten people, he’s in trouble, yeah. Now how much, I don’t know, but he will. He’ll come back, and then turn around and get somebody else, or do something…so knowing that, and I says, okay - go so, ten of us or twelve of us went and take the examination.


Imperial Japanese Army Japanese

Date: June 17, 2008

Location: California, US

Interviewer: Janice Tanaka

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Henry Eiichi Suto was born on February 5, 1928 in Minot, North Dakota to Issei parents. After the death of his father and younger sister, his mother returned to Japan with Henry and his brother. Henry was 7 years old and since he knew little Japanese, he worked hard to learn and try to fit in with his classmates. When he was approached by his teacher to sign up for the Japanese Army at the age of 17, he accepted—knowing he wouldn’t be able to afford to go to college. After basic training, he was 1 of 34 selected to train under a special unit, which he later found out was a “suicide” unit to man a one-man torpedo boat. He was in this unit when Hiroshima was bombed and was one of the first soldiers to arrive with aid, thirty-six hours after the bombing.

When the war ended, he returned to the United States and lived with an uncle after his mother passed away. He enrolled in Belmont High School, but 3 months later was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War. He was trained to become an interpreter and was taught the Korean language at Camp Palmer. He was to go to the front lines in Korea to interrogate, but while on their stopover in Japan, he was asked to stay to serve as an interpreter there instead.

He returned to the U.S. after being discharged from the army and went to Los Angeles City College where he majored in foreign trade. He found a job at the Otagiri Company and worked there till his retirement in 1993.

He passed away on October 17, 2008 at the age of 80. (January 30, 2009)

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