One thing you’ll discover right away about 92-year-old Fred Shiosaki is that he’s never far from his next joke.
“I want you to know it’s your fault you’ve ruined my breakfast,” he tells me when I first meet him at Seattle’s Aegis Living in Seattle.
He’s joking with me, delivering his punch lines with a perfect delivery. I say to him, “You like to joke don’t you?”
He responds with a deadpan, “Oh no, I’m serious all the time.”
Our conversations gets serious fast. We talk about the war. Shiosaki served in World War II. He remembers that day like it was yesterday.
“News comes on that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor,” he said.
Dec. 7, 1941, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. And soon after comes one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history. Japanese Americans are forced from their homes into internment camps. Shiosaki and his immediate family in Spokane are spared.
“One of my aunties, my dad’s brother’s wife, was interned,” said Shiosaki’s son, Michael. “And they lived in Seattle, so they were interned.”
“All of a sudden, we were the enemy,” Shiosaki adds.
They were seen as the enemy, yet fighting for our country.
Despite having their loyalties questioned, 33,000 Japanese Americans, niseis, or second generation Japanese, served in the military during and immediately after WWII. Shiosaki served in the 442nd Regimental Combat team, an all Japanese American unit.
“It was the most decorated military unit since the Civil War,” he said.
Shiosaki’s regiment broke through enemy lines to rescue the “Lost Battalion.” More than 200 American soldiers were rescued from the Germans, thanks to the 442nd regiment. But it came with a price.
“You ever see your friends die?” Shiosaki asked. “Out of a company of 185 men, only 17 of us came out of that one.”
The 442nd Regiment became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion,” because of all the casualties it suffered. Nearly 9,500 soldiers from that all Japanese battalion received Purple Hearts, including Shiosaki.
“I’m proud of everything he’s done,” said Susan Rauch, Aegis life enrichment director. “And he’s very modest about the whole thing.”
He’s modest about all of his hardware. There’s the congressional medal, bronze star, and the purple heart. And all those memories of fighting for his country.
“I cried when we came off the line. I was, ‘Where the hell are all my friends?” Shiosaki said.