During World War II, a young Japanese-American medic was running back and forth from the front lines during a fierce battle somewhere in France. He saw a gravely wounded soldier lying in the dirt, so he hoisted the man off the ground and carried him to the relative safety of the medical tent.
So many men were dying around him that the medic had no time to waste. He spun on his heel and darted back toward the line of fire to carry out the next casualty. Before he returned, the man had either been evacuated or died of his injuries. He didn’t know which.
But the medic, Donald Nakashima, never forgot the man.
Nakashima went on to medical school and a long practice as a doctor in Lodi. He never said much about his time in the Army medical corps during World War II, so his wife Joan Nakashima didn’t know many details about the war until she persuaded her husband to attend a reunion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Battalion in Reno many years ago.
“I never realized all the things he did,” she said. “When I heard the stories, I understood why he kept it quiet.”
Nakashima was born in Honolulu in 1923. In 1942, the 100th Infantry Battalion was created to separate eager Japanese-American soldiers from the rest of the Army due to concerns about their loyalty. Nakashima tried to enlist with this unit, but was too young.
Instead, he enrolled in classes at the University of Hawaii.
When the government reversed its decision banning Japanese-Americans from military service, Nakashima was among the thousands of men from Hawaii who stepped forward. He dropped out of school and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
In the Army, Nakashima worked as a medical corpsman in the K company, but he felt inadequate because of his limited training, said Joan Nakashima. The company had a casualty rate of nearly 87 percent.
After the war, Nakashima took advantage of the GI Bill to attend medical school at the University of Nebraska, where Joan Nakashima was in nursing school. The couple married a week after graduation in 1951.
A few years later, Nakashima moved his growing family to Lodi and set up his medical practice. His daughter, Carol Nakashima, works as an obstetrician and gynecologist here in town.
Veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Japanese-American members of the Military Intelligence Service who served in WWII were eager to prove their patriotism as young men. They will be honored for their dedicated military service, collectively, with a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Emancipation Hall at the United States Capitol Visitor Center next month.
The trip will include a Nisei memorial ceremony at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Columbia Hall, a visit to the National WWII Memorial, and a gala dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel to recognize the honorees.
Nakashima passed away in 1996, so his wife and son, Steven Nakashima, are traveling to Washington, D.C., in his place for the Nov. 2 ceremony.
Steven Nakashima learned about the ceremony through the National Veteran’s Network, a coalition of 25 Japanese-American veteran and civic organizations. In part due to efforts by the network, President Barack Obama signed a bill on Oct. 5, 2010 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to recognize the service of these veterans.
“You never would have thought such a mild-mannered guy was capable of doing these things,” said Steven Nakashima, of New York, who described his father as an organized and methodical doctor.
Joan Nakashima keeps her husband’s Silver Star, Bronze Medal and two Purple Hearts pinned to an American flag in a case on top of the cabinet in her dining room.
“Thinking about all these battles, they really fought hard,” she said. “This should have happened 20 or 40 years ago. It would have been better.”
Nakashima attended a reunion of the 442nd in Reno some years ago. There, he entered a room reserved for his company.
A man with one arm stepped forward, a man from Nakashima’s past.
It was the soldier he had pulled from the battlefield decades earlier.
“He said to the guy, ‘I thought you had died,’” said Steven Nakashima. “The guy said, ‘I would have if it weren’t for you.’”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.