© by courtesy of the Star Herald,
AN UNKNOWING HERO
By CHABELLA GUZMAN
ALLIANCE — Tad Nagaki entered the military in November of 1941.
He figured he would do a year and be done but then World War II broke out.
"I was in Fort Leavenworth when the war broke out and was transferred to the Quarter Masters at Fort Morgan in Kentucky," he said.
Nagaki, now 89, would go onto become part of an elite team of Nisei in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Detachment 101, where he acted as an interpreter. He entered the Pacific Theater in 1944 and was part of the Burma campaign.
"When the war ended the OSS sent us to the POW camps," Nagaki said. "They were all civilian camps and I was supposed to translate."
He did not do much translating, but the impression he and other members that parachuted in to free the POWs have been remembered for years.
When the Allied prisoners from the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center in China's Shantung province saw the parachutes, they were overcome with joy. In one account made by Mary T Previte, who was just a young girl in the camp at the time, when they saw the troops, everyone in the camp was elated.
"I raced for the entrance gate and was swept off my feet by the pandemonium. Men ripped off their shirts and waved at the bomber circling above. Prisoners ran in circles and pounded the skies with their fists. They wept, hugged, cursed, and danced. Waves of prison ers swept past the guards into the fields beyond the camp," she wrote.
Nagaki and his troop unknowingly had become heroes, not just to Previte, but also to hundreds of the people who had been in the camp for years.
Another POW, Jeanne Pander of Belgium, also remembered the day in a letter.
"A very hot summer day, people at their various tasks, listless yet hopeful, waiting, we knew the war was over, then suddenly a plane, yes American, then the parachutes! Grown-ups were yelling, cheering, crying we're free, we're free! We weren't forgotten after all. And everyone rushed through the gates to welcome our Armored Angels! After more than two years behind walls my world went topsy-turvy. I had to dare to go `out of bounds,' discover the feel of wind on my face, make my legs run on unknown ground, learn to eat again. No more roll-call rituals. I had yet to come to terms with the word Freedom,"
The prisoners who were children at the time speak of gum and Nagaki and the others playing baseball with them.
When he hears those stories, Nagaki smiles saying that it all happened so long ago that he doesn't remember a lot.
'They asked for volunteers to go and help and I volunteered. We were there for a week," he said.
For him it was just what he was there to do. He doesn't see himself as a hero, but that's what heroes often say about their acts of kindness and courage.
Tad Nagaki traveled far during World War II as a member in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He was born in Bayard and attended school in Minatare. He has farmed in Alliance since returning from the war.
During WWII, Tad Nagaki of
Alliance, was selected for an elite team of Nisei in OSS Detachment 101. Of the 23 men, only 14 made it to the completion of the war. The Nisei group from an undated photo, Nagaki is in the front row fifth from left.
After liberating the Weihsien
Civilian Assembly center in August 1945. From left, Ensign James T. Moore, Sgt. Tad Nagaki, Major Stanley A. Staiger and T/4 Raymond Hanchulak helped establish an OSS Base in Tsingtao, China.
Sgt Tad Nagaki, interpreter,
and T/4 Raymod N. Hanchulak, a medic, are awarded the Soldier's Medal for heroism in Shanghai in 1945 for their part in liberating 1,400 Allied prisoners from the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center in China's Shantung province.
Alliance man remains a hero to survivors of Japanese camp
Editor's note: The Star-Herald received several letters to the editor saluting Tad Nagaki, who at age 89 still farms in Alliance.
To the Editor:
Sgt. Nagaki is the only surviving American from the rescue team that liberated the Japanese-held Weihsien concentration camp in China on Aug. 17, 1945.I was a prisoner in that camp.
If I could pick one month to wrap my arms around America, it would be August. And if I could pick one American hero to salute, it would be Tad Nagaki of Alliance, Neb.
I fell in love with America on August 17, 1945. Americans were spilling from a low-flying B-24 bomber, dangling from parachutes that looked like giant poppies. They were dropping into the fields outside the barrier walls of the Japanese-held Weihsien concentration camp in China.
I dashed to the barracks windows in time to see the American star emblazoned on the plane. America's rescuing angels had come. Six gorgeous American men, sun-bronzed, with meat on their bones.
I was 12 years old. For three years, my brothers and sister and I had been captives. For 5-1/2 years, warring armies had separated up from our missionary parents.
Now the Americans had come.
Weihsien went mad. I raced for the entrance gate and was swept off my feet by the pandemonium. Men ripped off their shirts and waved at the bomber circling above. Prisoners ran in circles and pounded the skies with their fists. They wept, hugged, cursed, and danced. Waves of prisoners swept past the guards into the fields beyond the camp.
We trailed these angels everywhere. My heart flipped somersaults over every one of them. We wanted their autographs. We wanted their buttons. We wanted snips of their hair. We wanted pieces of parachute. They gave us our first taste of Juicy Fruit gum. We children chewed it and passed the sticky wads from mouth to mouth.
Sgt. Tad Nagaki was the Japanese-American interpreter on that rescue team. We adored the man. Before the war, he had been a high school football and baseball star. In Weihsien, in the long days we waited to be evacuated from the camp, he played catcher for the American prisoners when they played the British in softball.
Today, Tad Nagaki, 89, is the only living member of that rescue team.
On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the story of Tad Nagaki, this American hero was spotlighted on the front page of Rafu Shimpo, the largest vernacular newspaper in America. The story appeared in English and in Japanese.
From around the world, we former prisoners salute you, Tad Nagaki. It was heroes like you who saved the world.
Mary T. Previte
New Jersey General Assembly
To the Editor
I was 4 years old in 1945, on Aug. 17, in Weih sien Concentration Camp when the American GIs came to deliver us.
I don't remember.
I don't remember our camp life before that date either.
We returned to Tientsin two months later on an American plane with two big engines. I was very sick and the GIs laughed at me. That, I remember.
Our liberation has unconsciously been printed in my neurones. Nobody got killed that day but it could have been very much worse.
Progressively as time went on, I had this nightmare that came back to me, night after night — always the same dream and just before I woke up, I was seeing myself bare footed in the middle of a light brown dirty slope, under a blue sky without clouds and the sun shining bright. People running all over the place. Hysterical. I was completely panicked. Somebody picks me up — that is when I wake up.
It was in Weihsien one day of August 1945! I had that dream for many years afterwards.
Tad says that he is no hero. I understand him and respect his point of view.
My dad fought in the First World War from the very first day till the very last. He was 21 when it ended in 1918. He had a lot of medals but he never wore them and never spoke of it either. It was the past he used to say! It was the same for Weihsien.
I am just in the middle of reading a book: Nemesis by Max Hastings about WWII in the Pacific. Tad is not the only one we have to thank —there are thousands of other Tad Nagakis in America and other countries all over the world.
Are we aware of that?
Thanks to you, Tad, and all those of your generation who fought in 1940-45, I now live free.
Free to speak, write, and practice the religion of my choice in a tolerant world. I am sure that I will never be sent to jail or in a concentration camp because my way of understanding the word:
L-I-B-E-R T-Y is not the same one as for others.
To the Editor:
I write to honor Tad Nagaki. I am a WWII veteran; I flew 26 missions with the 8th Army Air Force out of England, bombing Germany. I feel it was for men like Ted that we fought. God Bless Him!!
To the Editor:
Through the Star Herald, may I thank Tad Nagaki — the athletic interpreter in the team whose bold mission liberated some 1,500 Allied civilians from the Japanese internment camp in Weihsien, China, at the end of World War II.
They flew from the mountains of Yunnan in Southern China across the country to the plains of Shandong in the North. When they parachuted into the fields outside the camp, I was a teenager in the crowd who ran past the bemused guards to greet our liberators.
Nagaki's linguistic skills bridged the gulf between people from the warring nations who had only just made the peace.
Many years later, I learned about some of the dangers faced by Tad Nagaki, and his colleagues in the Office of Strategic Services, during that unstable time when misinformation abounded.
I shall never forget the day of liberation. I gratefully acknowledge the last surviving member of the brave team of highly self-disciplined men who risked their lives to liberate us.
To the Editor:
We ex-internees of Weihsien Civilian Concentration Camp, N. China, are nearing the 64th anniversary of our liberation by seven American parachutists on 17 August, 1945. What a day! I was aged 14 at the time and kept a post-war Weihsien diary. First, here is what I wrote on Aug 16th:
"Around midday rumours went round that war was over. There were crowds near the front gate all talking away ..."
"Everybody was excited and couldn't settle down. We, of course dug into our stores more than usual. After morning roll-call, about 9.30 we heard a plane. Everybody rushed out and we found out that it was American. Occasionly foriegn (sic) planes had flown over but this was the first to fly low. It came from S-W. It flew E. of the camp and we could see the star. It had 4 engines and was a B-24. We all waved and cheered although they told us after that they didn't see us. It came over again and flew from S-N over the camp very low, about 40 feet. It almost touched the trees. Then it circled around and flew N-S, but what thrilled us was that it dropped parachute troops, 7 in all."
I made daily entries in my diary, but may I move on to Thursday, Aug 23, which has an entry about Tad Nagaki, one of the 7 parachutists.
"In the evening there was a game of softball England v America. After the first innings 3 Ams came, J.Moore (RF), P Orlich (SS), & Tad Nagaki (C). Tad is in my mind the best catcher in camp. I was told he could not peg fast `cause he strained a muscle, but he was as quick as anything, getting some, which meant a quick spring. He was very springy although he played in boots. He did some good hard hits. P Orlich made a very good SS. He had a hardball peg, a flick of the rist (sic). He made about the most hits - a very well placed bunt down 1st. He also squirmed bases. J. Moore had hardly ever played before - being brought up in an English school. He made a good hard hit at the pitcher - a cricket drive. The ball went over 2nd base and he got one base. He also did some good work at RE A*. won. " *America
(J. Moore & P Orlich were two of the other parachutists. Jimmy Moore, like me later, had been brought up at Chefoo School, N. China where we played cricket. I played softball for the two years in Weihsien.)
I send my kind regards to you, and wish you well in publishing about Tad Nagaki.
To the Editor:
August 1945, almost 7 years old, and I still very well remember the mad joy that took hold of all Weihsien prisoners ... prisoners no more!
A very hot summer day, people at their various tasks, listless yet hopeful, waiting, we knew the war was over, then suddenly a plane, yes American, then the parachutes! Grown-ups were yelling, cheering, crying we're free, we're free! We weren't forgotten after all. And everyone rushed through the gates to welcome our Armored Angels!
After more than two years behind walls my world went topsy-turvy. I had to dare go "out of bounds," discover the feel of wind on my face, make my legs run on unknown ground, learn to eat again. No more roll-call rituals. I had yet to come to terms with the word Freedom.
So, dear Tad, I am very grateful today for having the opportunity to say Thank You, to all the Duck Mission team, to all those who fought in this vicious war for our right to live freely, and to you specially, because you were personally there, in August 1945, to save me, a little girl, and all the inmates of Weihsien concentration camp.
To the Editor:
Thank you Tad ... my hero ... for what you did. I will never forget that liberation day ... I was one of those children that followed you around. I was 15 at that time. I remember the Chiclets ...
Kathleen Rictor (Nordmo)
Ocean Shores, Wash.
To the Editor:
We visited Tad Nagaki on January 30. He is so kind and courteous. We had a wonderful visit. He is very humble. His mind is very clear. It was so emotional to be there to thank him in person for his sacrifice he made for me so that I could be free.
I was 11 years old — just short of 12 years old when Tad when parachuted outside our camp to deliver us.
What a wonderful feeling to be free and to be able to go out of our gates for the first time for us in 2 years. We had been prisoners for three years — but in two different locations.
The men were incredibly brave to liberate us. They were on a suicide mission.
We adored those men — it was as if they were from another world — parachuting like they did from the sky — They were so healthy and handsome. And due to their coming we had Chiclets — we had never had that — and Army rations — everything was so rich our stomachs couldn't take it.
Audrey Nordmo Horton