Top positive review
An epic, one day at a time
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 15, 2011
Min Masuda was a little older than most of the volunteers in the Japanese-American 442nd regiment, had completed pharmacy degrees in Seattle, and was married. He also represented a minority within the regiment, as a volunteer from the internment camps of the West rather than a free American from Hawaii. Despite these differences, and despite self-censorship, his letters to his wife, from basic training to the front line as a combat medic in World War II Europe, ring true to the shared experience of these citizen-soldiers.
My father was also a volunteer for the 442nd and was also assigned to be a medic, although he was from Hawaii and was posted within the U.S. Many years after the war, Senator Spark Matsunaga intervened to get the soldiers' confiscated wartime diaries returned, and when I read my father's brief descriptions, there was the same tone as in Min's letters --- the suppressed apprehension of a young man going to war, description of the banal diversion of forgettable movies, mention of friends & relatives, and cryptic references to the work at hand.
Above all, what strikes me in Min's narrative is the simple earnestness of a young man living out an epic drama one day at a time.
He was usually ignorant of the strategy that moved his unit around the Mediterranean theater. He did his job patching up the wounded with self-effacing modesty. He shared conversation and music and cooking with his buddies. He was sometimes bored. He did not seem to mind admitting to his wife that he enjoyed getting glimpses of young women. He sympathetically witnessed the hardships of Italian and French civilians.
Importantly, he respected people and did not forget it:
"Once in a while we have to treat German wounded and they're all so pitifully young looking, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty. ... no matter how much we may hate them, for they are the enemy and have killed our men, when they come in battered and pierced by our fire, I still feel that they should be treated and we do just as good a job as if on our own men, though naturally the latter must come first."
He only occasionally expressed his disgust at the racism ("prejudice") experienced by Japanese-Americans. Furthermore, he provided a glimpse into his motivation for volunteering to fight for his country even when he and his family had been wrongfully imprisoned, to prove that the assumption of Japanese-American disloyalty was wrong, and because at the end of the day he possessed "an inexplicable tinge of patriotism."
He knew what was important to himself and his fellows: "The constant dream and hope of all of us is to get this war over with and to go home to our loved ones."
He was a devoted correspondent, both during the fighting and after the German surrender. On the few occasions in which he describes events twice, first while they were happening and then after the end of hostilities, it is a revelation to realize how much could not be said the first time, both because of military censorship and to spare his wife anxiety over the dangers of combat.
In addition to editing the letters, his wife and the editor do an admirable job of providing brief contextual descriptions without distracting from Min's own story.
This book is a rewarding perspective into the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of an "ordinary" man who was asked to do much, and who answered in full measure: "In a war living is reduced to its essentials, though we try hard to hang on to whatever ideals we had before, at least what we call civilization."