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Bobby Okinaka, Alumni Association

  • By Marina Dundjerski
  • Published Mar 1, 2002 8:00 AM

He is too young to remember World War II. But 32-year-old Bobby Okinaka, a UCLA alumnus who works as the Alumni Association's Web manager, has a growing familiarity with those historic times as he spends his weekends documenting the history of Japanese-American veterans.

It began three years ago when Okinaka, who received his B.A. in East Asian Studies in 1992, was shooting video during the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. He was approached by representatives of the Go for Broke Educational Foundation, which in 1998 created the Hanashi Oral History Program to preserve the "hanashi," the stories of Japanese-American World War II veterans. The hanashi video archive is intended to help students, researchers and educators better understand those turbulent times.

Thus far, Okinaka, whose father was interned in the Japanese concentration camps as a youngster and later served as a sergeant major in the U.S. Army, has helped document the accounts of 50 veterans from the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.

Because the important role of Japanese-Americans in World War II is often forgotten, telling of the story is crucial, says Okinaka, who hopes to one day produce a film on the 442nd regiment.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, of which the 100th Infantry was the first Battalion, was organized on March 23, 1943, in response to the War Department's call for volunteers to form an all-Japanese-American army combat unit. More than 12,000 Japanese American answered the call. After about a year of training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the 442nd went overseas, engaging in combat in Italy and France. With its battle cry, "Go For Broke!" the 442nd regiment earned the honor and distinction of being the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in battle in U.S. military history.

"It's a true American story, not just about being Japanese," Okinaka says. "I want everyone to know about it. We can learn from the history, so that we can help secure the civil liberties of people who are being affected by the events of today."