Frank "Foo" Fujita


Name Frank "Foo" Fujita Jr.
Born October 20 1921
Died 1996
Birth Location Oklahoma
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Frank "Foo" Fujita Jr. (1921-1996) was a Nisei soldier of mixed-race heritage who was a prisoner of war of the Japanese Imperial Army for almost three and a half years while serving in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II. While his family was never incarcerated during the war because they lived in Texas, Fujita volunteered for the U.S. military and was assigned to the famous Texan 36th Division that was rescued by the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Vosges Mountains of France during the European campaign.

Contents

Early Life and Enlistment

Born on October 20, 1921, and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma, Frank Fujita Jr. was born to Tsuneji Fujita and Ida Pearl Elliott. Fujita's father, Tsuneji Fujita, born on September 28, 1892, in a tiny village near the port of Nagasaki, arrived in America in 1914 and changed his name to Frank. Frank Fujita Sr. headed east and eventually married Ida Pearl in Oklahoma before giving birth to Frank Fujita Jr. When Frank Jr. was 16, Frank Sr., who lived a nomadic, transient life, moved the family to Abilene, Texas, in the Fall of 1937 where Ida put her foot down and told Frank Sr. that it was the last time they would change towns.[1] While in high school, Fujita began to dabble in sketches and drew cartoons from his own creative imagination in his spare time. At Abilene High School, Fujita's artistic drawings garnered him local fame and the nickname "Foo."[2] Fujita's friend Roy McCullough had enlisted in the Texas National Guard, and McCullough portrayed his experiences in the military as an adventure and good times, which influenced Fujita to enlist as well.[3]

In August 1938 in Abilene, Texas, Frank Fujita Jr. enlisted in the Texas National Guard where he was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment, 61st Field Artillery Brigade, 36th Division. Fujita expresses in his memoir that at the time of his enlistment, he was six-months underage, 30 pounds underweight, and under-height as well.[4] Upon joining the Texas National Guard, Fujita was assigned as a chauffeur with a private first class status where he drove battery and battalion officers around the military facilities. Two years later in August of 1940, Fujita was sent with the 36th Division to Louisiana for maneuver training for the possibility of mobilization to the Pacific. For the next year, Fujita participated in major U.S. Army military maneuvers and training exercises in Louisiana. In October 1941, Fujita was transferred to E Battery, 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, and subsequently on November 21, 1941 was shipped out for the Philippines.

Before the start of World War II, Fujita was shipped in November 1941 to California, Hawai'i, and then to the Philippines. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced Fujita's military transport to divert its course from the Philippines to the Fiji islands. Fujita and his outfit missed the bombing of Pearl Harbor by eight days.[5] While fighting in Java against the Japanese, Dutch, British, and American military forces were divided by the Japanese and eventually taken over by the Japanese Imperial Army. During the Battle of Java, Fujita became a prisoner of war of the Japanese in March 1942.

It is important to note the unusual nature of the U.S. military allowing Fujita to continue fighting against the Japanese enemy, when other Japanese American enlistees were initially discharged in Hawai'i and on the West Coast. Shirley Castelnuovo explains in Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II that, "individual officers were given the responsibility of deciding on discharges or retention."[6] Although Fujita does not indicate any conversations with his superiors regarding his Japanese ancestry and being retained in his outfit, Castelnuovo's explanation may suggest a plausible interpretation of Fujita's situation.

Japanese POW

Although roughly six thousand Japanese Americans saw military service in the war against Japan, serving as either interpreters or translators, only two Nisei were imprisoned by the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. Sergeant Frank Fujita Jr. in Java and Richard Sakakida in the Philippines were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army. Fujita kept a secret diary and documented all of his observations and experiences while in Japanese captivity. The diary eventually became a crucial piece of evidence in the war trials of his Japanese captors and it was incorporated into Fujita's memoir. Fujita was initially imprisoned in Surabaja and Changi Prison Camps in Singapore after his initial capture and then transferred to Omori Prison Island in Tokyo Bay.

During the initial stages of captivity, the Japanese military officials did not recognize Fujita as Japanese. It was not until one of the military officials discovered Fujita's Japanese surname, which prompted the Japanese military to attempt to indoctrinate Fujita in the "Japanese ways." However, Fujita is adamant that "if they [referring to the Japanese captors] could not sway me, being part Japanese, over to their side...[and] I had to prove to all the POWs I was thrown in with that I was 100 percent American."[7] Throughout his time in captivity, Fujita recalls in his memoir the difficulties of surviving the harsh imprisonment while demonstrating to the other POWs that he was indeed one of them in an attempt to assuage their fears that he turned his loyalty to the Japanese military.

One incident in particular showed the tensions between Fujita's American and Japanese identities. Fujita encountered a fellow American POW, Sergeant John David Provoo, whose nickname was the "Traitor of Corregidor" because he betrayed his unit and aided the Japanese. Fujita learned when Sergeant Provoo and his unit were surrounded and captured by the Japanese, "Provoo donned his Shinto robes and...greeted the Japanese landing force and offered his services."[8] In contrast, when the Japanese officials sought to employ Fujita as a tool in their propaganda campaign by forcing Americans to speak on the radio on behalf of the Japanese Empire, Fujita did not comply with their demands. More importantly, the Japanese officials felt that Fujita's Japanese ethnicity would provide a prime tool for their propaganda campaign. In defiance, Fujita believed that "I was already writing such juvenile stuff that it was completely unusable" for broadcast and that he "had misgivings and problems with our conscience about writing anything for an enemy nation."[9]

On August 29, 1945, Fujita and 300 other POWs from a battalion of 550 prisoners of war were liberated.[10] Fujita returned to the United States in 1945 and took several weeks to repatriate back to his hometown of Abilene, Texas. He eventually made it back stateside in October 1945 where he returned to his family. During the Occupation of Japan, Fujita allowed the U.S. government to use his diary in order to prosecute suspected Japanese war criminals. Eventually, the diary became a basis for Fujita's memoir Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun, The Secret Prison Diary of Frank "Foo" Fujita, which was published in 1993. In the postwar, Fujita served as an illustrator for the Air Force until a disability he received while as a POW forced him to retire from the armed forces, which prompted Fujita to explore the U.S. with his wife and motorhome.[11]

Authored by Jeffrey T. Yamashita, University of California, Berkeley

For More Information

Books

Bayly, Christopher, and Tim Harper. Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-45. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

Crager, Kelly E. Hell Under the Rising Sun: Texan POWs and the building of the Burma-Thailand Death Rail. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

Daws, Gavan. Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific. New York: W. Morrow, 1994.

Fujita, Frank. Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun, The Secret Prison Diary of Frank "Foo" Fujita. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993.

Kiyosaki, Wayne S. A Spy in Their Midst: The World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero: The Story of Richard Sakakida. Lanham: Madison Books, 1995.

Footnotes

  1. Frank Fujita, Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun, The Secret Prison Diary of Frank "Foo" Fujita (Denton: University of North Texas, 1993): 11.
  2. Fujita, Foo, 12.
  3. Fujita, Foo, 15.
  4. Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific (New York: W. Morrow, 1994): 54.
  5. Fujita, Foo, 47
  6. Shirley Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2010), 13.
  7. Fujita, Foo, 183.
  8. Fujita, Foo, 192.
  9. Fujita, Foo, 203.
  10. Fujita, Foo, ix.
  11. Fujita, Foo, 358.