George Oiye


Name George Oiye
Born February 22 1919
Died February 28 2006
Birth Location Basin Creek, Montana
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Nisei war hero from Montana and member of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion who took part in the rescue of the Lost Battalion and the liberation of Nazi death camps and whose photographs provide a valuable personal record of his wartime experiences.

George Oiye (1919–2006) was born in Montana, the third of four children of Jengoro "Tom" Oiye and Taka Kimura. His father had migrated from Kyushu in around 1907 and had returned to marry his mother in 1914. Settling first in Seattle, the couple had two daughters there. In 1921, the family moved to Montana where they had invested in a gold mine. After a stint in Helena where Tom worked in a railroad roundhouse, the family settled in Trident in 1926, where Tom worked in a cement factory and later ran a small vegetable farm. George and his siblings attended school in a two-room schoolhouse in Trident, and George went on to high school in Three Forks starting in 1936. A star football player, George also became an expert hunter and fisherman. After graduation, he worked on the family farm for a year before enrolling at Montana State College in Bozeman in the fall of 1941. Being an expert rifleman, he became caption of the school's rifle team, while studying engineering and belonging to the ROTC.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, George attempted to enlist, but was repeatedly turned away. In the meantime, his father was forced to quit his job at the cement factory and was briefly subject to internment. One of his sisters, already married and living in Los Angeles, ended up at Manzanar, where she bore a son. With the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 1943, George was finally allowed to enlist. Sent to Camp Shelby for basic training, he quickly was given the nickname "Montana" and assigned to the 522nd. After basic training, he was sent to Europe, where he saw combat, taking part in the rescue of the Lost Battalion. Later, when the 522nd had been split off, he and his comrades came upon a sub-camp of the Nazi death camp Dachau. As he told 2004 interviewers, "there were lumps in the snow and when you scraped away this snow it turned out these lumps in the snow were human corpses."[1] Though photography was technically not allowed, he and his close friend Susumu Ito had smuggled in cameras and took photographs documenting their experiences. In addition to a Kodak 620 folding camera, Oiye eventually acquired a 35mm Kodak Retina 1 from a dead German soldier, taking most of his photos with the latter camera.

He was awarded a bronze star and honorably discharged in 1946. He eventually returned to Montana and tried to resume his schooling, but was unable to finish due to what today might be called post-traumatic stress disorder. He eventually moved to California, graduating from California Aero Tech institute and enjoyed a distinguished career as a an engineer. He married Mary Sumie Toyoda in 1951 and had two children. He regularly returned home to Montana to hunt and fish and see friends. After his retirement in 1998, he supported efforts to document Japanese American history and did Christian outreach. He published an autobiography in 2003, and his photographs are in the collections of the Japanese American National Museum and the Montana Historical Society. He died on February 28, 2006.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Finding aid to the Oiye (George) Album, 1943–1946, Japanese American National Museum, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/ft2779n738/entire_text/.

Interview with George Oiye, May 20, 2004, San Jose, California by Ryan B., Sydney A., Bryce R, Jaime R, with Howard Levin. http://www.tellingstories.org/liberators/goiye/.

Malby, Andy. "Three Forks Native, War Hero George Oiye Dead at 84." Belgrade News, March 3, 2006, http://www.belgrade-news.com/news/article_f8c56aaf-5001-5356-8d65-f144ab3a10fa.html.

Oiye, George. Footprints in My Rearview Mirror: An Autobiography and Christian Testimony. [Florida]: Xulon Press, 2003.

Pallister, Casey J. "George 'Montana' Oiye: The Journey of a Japanese American from the Big Sky to the Battlefields of Europe." Montana: The Magazine of Western History 57.3 (Autumn 2007): 21–33.

Unforgettable Face. Documentary film produced and directed by Nicole Newnham. National Asian American Telecommunications Association, 1993. 13 minutes. [Features a reunion between Oiye and a death camp survivor forty years later.]

Footnotes

  1. Intervierw with George Oiye, May 20, 2004, San Jose, California, by Ryan B., Sydney A., Bryce R, Jaime R, with Howard Levin, accessed on August 31, 2013 at http://www.tellingstories.org/liberators/goiye/.