Rudy Tokiwa

Name Rudy Tokiwa
Born July 7 1925
Died December 4 2004
Birth Location Coyote, California
Generational Identifier


World War II veteran and member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team , also played a key role in the Redress Movement in the 1980s.

Early Life and Japanese Education

Kazuo "Rudy" Tokiwa was born on July 7, 1925, in Coyote, California—a small community south of San José—to Issei parents Jisuke and Fusa Yokote Tokiwa, who hailed from Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan. He was the youngest of six children, the eldest of whom was a sister who had been born in Japan and left behind there after her parents immigrated to the U.S. The Tokiwas ran a lettuce farm on leased land outside of Salinas, California. Like many Nisei children, young Rudy grew up helping the family in the fields while attending grammar school. [1]

When he was around thirteen, his parents decided to send him to Japan both as a means for him to learn Japanese language and culture and with the idea that he might inherit family lands. While in Japan, Rudy lived both in Kagoshima and with his sister and her husband, who had settled in Japanese-controlled Manchuria. Used to American mores, he had to adjust to an educational system based on rote memory, harassment by upperclassmen, and rigorous military-style training in addition to the Japanese language. He ultimately returned to California in 1940 after his grandfather's passing. He subsequently attended Salinas High School alongside his brother, Toshio "Duke," who was the team's quarterback. [2]

Wartime Incarceration and Military Service

After the attack on Pearl Harbor , the Tokiwa family faced forced removal along with all other Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Though fortunate in one regard—a neighboring family of Swiss Italian descent, the Pozzis, offered to store the family's car and other possessions and care for their dog—the Tokiwas nonetheless were forced to leave their farm for American concentration camps. Under the auspices of Civilian Exclusion Order 15, they gathered at the National Guard Armory in Salinas on April 30, 1942, from where they were bussed to the Salinas Assembly Center , located at the Salinas Race Track and Fair Grounds at the north end of town. Given the proximity of the " assembly center " to his former home, some of Rudy's high school friends—many of whom were of Italian descent and thus also the children of "enemy aliens"—visited him there. After less than two months, the Tokiwas moved on to Poston , Arizona, where they were placed in Poston II—one of the two smaller subcamps at Poston—in Block 213. At Poston, Rudy worked in the block mess hall—he had also been a volunteer chef's helper at the assembly center—while also taking part in typical teenage recreational activities including basketball and dancing. He was hospitalized in August 1942 after suffering severe burns when he tripped carrying a vat of coffee. After he recovered, he worked in Parker (which was about twenty miles away) unloading boxcars carrying supplies for the camp, then in a camp warehouse. [3]

In February of 1943, army recruiters visited all of the War Relocation Authority camps to administer the so-called " loyalty questionnaire " and recruit volunteers for the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. A group of young men from Block 213 that included Rudy and Duke subsequently gathered afterwards to discuss what to do and ultimately decided to all enlist as a group. Since Rudy was only seventeen, it was understood that he would not be inducted until he was eighteen. He left Poston in June of 1943 as part of a group of inmates who journeyed to Nebraska to do outside agricultural work at prevailing wages. He enlisted in the army in Salt Lake City on October 2, 1943, and reported to Fort Douglas. He was disappointed to find that he had been initially assigned to the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, because of his Japanese language ability honed by his schooling in Japan. Wanting to be with his brother and Poston friends at Camp Shelby, he sabotaged his own Japanese language test, which resulted in reassignment to his desired locale. He underwent basic training at Shelby as part of the 442nd for the next six months and was assigned to K Company of the Third Battalion. Orders for deployment to Europe came on April 22, 1944. His fondness for sparring with boxing gloves on the ship to Europe earned him the nickname "Punch Drunk." [4]

As part of the 442nd, Tokiwa saw combat from June 1944 to April 1945 in Italy, France, and Italy again. For much of the time, he served as a "runner," assigned to carry messages between headquarters and field commanders, a particularly dangerous job. In that capacity, he often served alongside Lieutenant Colonel Alfred A. Pursall, the Third Battalion's commanding officer, accompanying him on patrols. He single-handedly captured four German officers while on assignment to gather intelligence on German defenses; on another occasion, after he had gathered intelligence from Italian partisans, he was hidden from a German patrol in the attic of an Italian family. He also took part in the famed rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in October 1944, with his K Company being among those that took the brunt of German fire, and was one of the first to reach the trapped soldiers. He was wounded several times, most seriously in April of 1945, in the aftermath of attacks that broke through the Gothic Line in Italy. The shrapnel that shredded his lower body ended his participation in the war. In June 1945, he was awarded the Bronze Star in a ceremony at Empoli before some 15,000 men. [5]

Postwar and Community Life

Returning to the U.S. after the war, he ended his military service in November 1945, just as Poston was closing. Not knowing where his parents were, he went to San José, where he found them living in a Buddhist church hostel. While suffering from chronic pain from his wounds and recurrent nightmares, he worked at at a series of jobs and went to a diesel engineering school before working at Mt. Eden Nursery a Nikkei-owned commercial nursery in San José. He married Lilly Ikeda of San José—who had also been incarcerated at Poston—in 1950 and the couple subsequently had four children before the marriage ended in divorce. A second marriage in 1981 was short-lived. Judy Niizawa, a speech pathologist and activist, was his life partner for the last two decades of his life. [6]

Tokiwa took an active role in the community, initially with organizations tied to his family including the PTA, youth sports, and the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming the Western Regional Director of Boy Scouts of America and founding of a troop at the San Jose Betsuin. In later years, he took an active role in the Japanese American community, serving as the founding president of Go For Broke, Inc., an organization that later became the National Japanese American Historical Society. He was also an active supporter of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II . Active in the Redress Movement—he credited Niizawa for inspiring his involvement—he went on the 1987 lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. under auspices of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations . As a decorated veteran who who walked with crutches, he was assigned to talk to fellow veteran legislators. He was credited in particular with convincing influential Florida Congressman Charles Bennett to support redress legislation, which led to the support of Bennett's junior colleagues. [7]

Tokiwa passed away on December 4, 2004, at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital at the age of 79.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Brown, Daniel James. Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II . New York: Viking, 2021.

Duus, Masayo. Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and the 442nd . Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1987.

Tokiwa, Rudy. Interviews by Tom Ikeda and Judy Niizawa , Sept. 13, 1997 and July 2–3, 1998, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository.


  1. Rudy Tokiwa Interview II by Tom Ikeda (primary) and Judy Niizawa (secondary), Segments 1, 3 and 4, Honolulu, July 2–3, 1998, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, ; Masayo Duus, Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and the 442nd (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987), 65; Kauzo Tokiwa, United State Census, 1930, accessed on Jan. 12, 2021 at .
  2. Tokiwa Interview II, Segments 5, 6, 12, and 15; Duus, Unlikely Liberators , 72–73; Daniel James Brown, Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II (New York: Viking, 2021), 65–66; Kazuo Tokiwa, California, San Francisco Passenger Lists, 1893–1953, accessed on Jan. 12, 2021 at .
  3. Brown, Facing the Mountain , 82–83, 85, 95, 120–21; Rudy Tokiwa Interview II, Segments 15–21; Official Daily Press Bulletin, [Poston] Camp Two , Aug. 9 and 12, 1942.
  4. Rudy Tokiwa Interview II, Segments 22–24; Brown, Facing the Mountain , 137–40, 157–58, 213–15; 226–27; Duus, Unlikely Liberators , 66, 71, 145–46; Poston Chronicle , June 19, 1943, 2; Rudy K. Tokiwa, United States World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938–1946, and Rudy Karpo (sic) Tokiwa, Utah, World War II Index to Army Veterans of Utah, 1939–1945 , both accessed on Jan. 12, 2021.
  5. Brown, Facing the Mountain , 253–54; 282–86, 300–02, 345, 361–64; 408, 411, 455; Obituary, Rafu Shimpo , Dec. 9, 2004; Pacific Citizen , June 9, 1945, 8.
  6. Tokiwa, World War II Index to Army Veterans of Utah; Tokiwa Interview II, Segments 56, 58; Brown, Facing the Mountain , 465–66; Obituary, Rafu Shimpo , Dec. 9, 2004; Pacific Citizen , July 7, 1945, 7; Obituary, Lilly Yuriko Berchem, and Rudy Kazuo Tokiwa, Nevada Marriage Index, , both accessed on Jan. 12, 2021.
  7. Tokiwa Interview II, Segments 59–61; Brown, Facing the Mountain , 465–66; Obituary, Rafu Shimpo , Dec. 9, 2004; Rudy Tokiwa Interview I by Tom Ikeda (primary) and Judy Niizawa (secondary), Segments 1, 5, and 6, Los Angeles, Sept. 13, 1997, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, ; Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold, Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 172–73; Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 367.

Last updated Jan. 31, 2024, 1:28 a.m..