A WWII Nisei Veteran Reflects on Her Service

USC Digital Library

When we study World War II veterans’ experiences, we most often read about men’s accounts. After all, mandatory draft orders were placed on U.S. men—but not women—between the ages of 18 and 45. It is therefore a rare treat to watch U.S. Army veteran Rose Uriyu’s interview in the Go for Broke National Education Center’s Hanashi Oral History Program. 

Uriyu offers an interesting perspective on WWII. She grew up in Hawaii and experienced the bombing of Pearl Harbor firsthand while still a teenager. In her testimony, she describes wearing a gas mask to her high school graduation ceremony. (This may hit close to home for everyone sheltering in place and wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.) She remarks that “it was a strange way to go” and jokes that she is thankful there were no pictures taken.

Uriyu worked as a typist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser during the early 1940s. Due to her knowledge of Japanese and prior work, Uriyu applied to join the U.S. Army’s 71st Signal Corps during the U.S. occupation of Japan. She typed coded messages and worked in the same Tokyo building as General Douglas MacArthur. In 1946, Uriyu joined the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS), where she typed translated reports from prisoners of war detailing the cruel treatment they received while held in Russia, Manchuria, Siberia, and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Her reports were then sent to Washington to aid in the U.S. Army’s documentation of POW abuses.

Uriyu’s unique experiences as a Nisei woman in the U.S. military shed a different light on the war and occupation of Japan—as well as the WWII service of Nisei veterans. Additionally, her video testimony recreates the uncertainty felt by U.S. civilians in Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although Uriyu’s military service was away from the front lines, her reports of POW abuses helped to complete the historical record of the war and aid in the understanding of soldiers’ experiences. 

Since 1998, Go for Broke National Education Center’s Hanashi Oral History Program has collected stories from Japanese American veterans, primarily second-generation Nisei who served in WWII. The program gives voice to people who previously had little opportunity, motivation, or desire to share their stories. Go for Broke filmed Uriyu’s interview in March of 2004. 

As the Nisei generation continues to age, recording and promoting these stories is more vital than ever to ensure a complete historical record. You can watch the rest of Uriyu’s oral history video and others by visiting the Go for Broke Collection, which has been made accessible via the USC Digital Library thanks to a recent grant from the NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program.