“A Loyal American”
2nd Lieutenant Grant Ichikawa
Grant Ichikawa volunteered for US Army service while incarcerated in the Gila River camp. His service as a Japanese translator and interpreter was just the beginning of a long military career.
In May 1941, Ichikawa graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, the first in his family to get a college diploma. Even with an accounting degree, prejudice was plentiful and opportunities scarce for Japanese Americans like Ichikawa. He began to lay the groundwork for farming a plot of his own, following in the footsteps of his father. His parents had both come from Japan to the Suisun Valley in California. Ichikawa was born on the family farm in 1919, followed by a younger brother and sister.
Despite anti-Japanese sentiment after Pearl Harbor, Ichikawa wasn’t worried, because he was an American citizen. On February 19, 1942, however, the President signed Executive Order 9066, which directed the War Department to create “military areas” that anyone could be excluded from for essentially any reason. Thereafter, nearly 120,000 men, women and even children were confined in camps for years, without benefit of trial, simply because of their Japanese ancestry. Ichikawa and his family were sent to the Gila River incarceration camp in Arizona.
His life, family, and community were altered forever. Ichikawa recalled, “We were treated like prisoners, really, and that really destroyed me.” He saw the Army as an opportunity to leave the camp, to have some of his civil rights restored and to prove his loyalty to the United States.
“How do you prove you’re a loyal American? You join the Army, is one way.”
Ichikawa volunteered for US Army service while incarcerated in the Gila River camp. He was sent to Military Intelligence Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and worked hard to improve the Japanese language that he had learned sparingly as a boy. He found this language training more difficult than college. The group later trained with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He said they didn’t have any “goof-offs.” They all tried their best and wanted to prove themselves.
Ichikawa was sent to Australia with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS) in January 1944. In July 1945, the unit moved to the Philippines. There his work transitioned from organizing and analyzing enemy intelligence to interrogating numerous Japanese prisoners of war, gathering valuable information. He recalled, “Being a linguist in a division full of people, when you have to deal with the enemy, you’re the one that does that.”
After four years of service in World War II, Ichikawa was recalled for two and a half years in Korea. After Army service, Ichikawa was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He served with the CIA throughout Asia, including in Indonesia and in Vietnam, often bringing his wife and children with him. Ichikawa stayed in Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975, and was one of the last to leave the country. He passed away in 2017.
In all, nearly 6,000 Japanese Americans graduated through the rigorous six-month training program and served with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Their first recognition came with the Presidential Unit Citation awarded in 2000. In 2010, MIS veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal along with veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion.
2nd Lt. Grant Ichikawa is one of the many heroes you will come to know through his own words in Expressions of America.