“We just didn’t feel tension like a lot of other places.” — An Interview with Hershey and Terry Miyamura: Part 1 of 2
By Bob Rosebrough
Hershey Miyamura and Terry Tsuchimori met in 1944 when Hershey returned to Gallup on a furlough during World War II. Terry, who grew up in Winslow, was visiting Hershey’s sister. Terry remembers saying, “My, what a good looking brother you have!” and she laughs. Seventy years later, Hershey and Terry are sitting comfortably in the living room of their immaculate Mossman home and talking about the course of their lives.
“They made a complex just for us to live in.” Terry’s father worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in Winslow. She says, “They had a big round house in Winslow and he got a good job there, so we settled there. And not only us, but there must have been ten Japanese families.”
“Do you know what?” Terry says with pride. “Our dads were such good workers that they made a complex just for us to live in.”
Hershey’s parents came to Gallup in the early 1900s, but he had an aunt who “came much earlier. She had a boarding house in Gamerco that housed miners from all over the world.”
Hershey says, “My Dad came over as young boy to visit (his aunt) and liked what he saw. He wanted to come back.” Hershey’s father and mother were married in Japan and after the marriage, “he was drafted into the Japanese army. He had to spend two years over there. That’s why my oldest sister was born there. When Hershey’s oldest sister was two and a half, his parents moved to Gallup and Hershey’s father “worked as a coal weigher in Gamerco. The coal came out and he used to weight it. He moved from Gamerco to Gallup and opened up a small hamburger diner and then a big restaurant that he named the O.K. Café that was on Coal Avenue between Second and Third Streets. It was strictly American food.”
“Our playground was the alley.” Thinking back to his childhood, Hershey says, “My folks were so busy with the restaurant, that they didn’t really have much time to spend with us. There were seven of us all together and so I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do. I used to stay up too late at night. I could do just about anything I wanted to do. It was all just fun we had to make up on our own. We did things that you don’t even hear about today, like kick the can, hide and seek, stuff like that. I used to like to box and we used to hold boxing matches right behind the restaurant. Our playground was the alley.
“I used to challenge a lot of the kids. I used to wear a pair of gloves around my neck challenging people. In those days I liked the boxing. I was willing to fight anyone that would put the gloves on with me. I was never one that trained or took it that seriously. I just enjoyed it, but I didn’t enjoy training, so I never amounted to anything.”
“I left and she looked like she was okay.” Hershey’s childhood soon changed abruptly. He says, “When my mother died when I was eleven, it really changed the way I looked at life. I just felt that loss so much, I just changed completely.”
To this day, Hershey is not sure what caused his mother’s death. “She was in a hospital when I left and she looked like she was okay. She knew I wanted to go to this Japanese Free Methodist church conference, which was in Pacific Palisades, California, for a week. I remember seeing her at the hospital and she said to go, that it was okay, but about the second day out at the conference, I got word that she had passed away.
“I just, I can’t remember much after that,” Hershey says. “I couldn’t understand why the Lord took my mother when I was attending a church conference and it made me bitter for many years. And finally after speaking to a lot of people, I realized things happen for a reason and eventually you will find out why it happened that way and it’s usually for the better. But I have learned that in so many instances in my life, things have happened and I couldn’t understand how and why it happened, but later I did find out why, or believe I found out why. And it’s always been for the better. I like to pass that on to people that I speak with.”
“Most of the Japanese families had a business.” Hershey says, “My father’s nephew was Frank Ueda. He ran a garage. He was well known because of his mechanical background. His sister was Mrs. George Taira. And most of the other Japanese families had a business at one time or another. So everyone knew each other. George Taira Sr. also ran a restaurant like my dad. The name of the restaurant was The Eagle Café. And the alley was our backyard. He was located on Front Street and we were on Coal Avenue. And then there were Japanese people that ran a laundromat and people worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. The Shibatas had a variety store called Tom’s Variety. It was on Front Street on the corner where the museum is. No, it was a couple doors down. There was the Rex Hotel . . .”
Terry interjects, “There was another restaurant there.”
Hershey says, “Yeah. Tom’s Variety was about the second or third building down from the corner. Ed Shibata had the variety store, Tom Shibata worked at the Ft. Wingate depot and Walter Shibata was a front end mechanic for Gurley Motors for many years.”
Hershey continues, “The Hirakawas ran the laundry and the Hirokawas – with an O – they ran a motel on Front Street. I forget the name of the motel.”
Terry says, “It was right next to Mullarky’s.”
“All my classmates wondered how I graduated.” Thinking back to high school, Hershey says, “You know, all my classmates wondered how I graduated. I used to sleep in all my classes. I used to stay up so late and just play or do whatever I wanted to do and, like I said, we didn’t have much supervision growing up. I went out for a lot of activities, but I was very small compared to my classmates then, and I just was not able to play on any varsity team of any kind. I did manage to box some in high school and I remember Hank Hausner was my coach along with Isidore Danoff. And I thought he was a good coach because he did some boxing himself. I went out for track, but never really amounted to anything in any of the sports. So the only chance I got was in boxing.”
“We had no problems during the war.” When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, life in America changed dramatically for most Japanese families. Hershey remembers Gallup as being different. He says, “Gallup was a town of immigrants. When the mines closed, most of the people came to Gallup and raised families. They either married local people or brought their wife from the old country, but we grew up knowing so many different types of cultures and we all got along pretty well. I remember that distinctly because I couldn’t understand why other towns had so many problems with other nationalities, especially during the war. Like my mom, everyone considered themselves Americans and we all looked at each other as Americans. We had no problems during the war, especially at the beginning of the war when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Hershey says, “We just didn’t feel, or have to go through, tension like a lot of other places that had the people of Japanese ancestry.”
Hershey was drafted for World War II on January 13, 1944. He says, “I got drafted, because I could not volunteer at that time. The government passed a law saying that all people of Japanese ancestry were considered enemy aliens. I was put into Dog company, D company of the 100th battalion, which was the first battalion of the 442nd regiment combat team. The 100th battalion was a heavy weapons company. I was a heavy weapons machine gunner.”
“The President was standing in the rain waiting for us.” The 100th battalion was comprised of Japanese Americans who performed well and suffered heavy casualties in the European theater. Hershey says, “They did so well that the commanding officer asked for more Japanese troops. Our government decided to reverse the law so we were allowed to volunteer. That’s when they asked for volunteers from the internment camps like Terry’s family was sent to. The 442nd regiment was the most decorated unit of its size in American military history.”
Hershey narrowly missed action in Europe. The day before they were to ship out, “We were given a field inspection and a physical. During the physical I was told by a colonel that examined me, he said, ‘You have a hernia. Does it bother you?’ I said, ‘No sir. I don’t even know what a hernia is.’ He said, ‘We’re going to send you back to Camp Shelby, Mississippi hospital and they’ll fix you up.’ So I went for an operation while the rest of my buddies boarded ship, and left for Europe. That was the last time I saw them. I lost a lot of my buddies during that battle.”
After recovering from the operation, Hershey rejoined the 100th battalion and boarded ship in Norfolk, Virginia. “Five days out of Naples, Italy we learned that the war in Europe was over. We eventually landed in Naples and joined the regiment that was processing German prisoners of war in the northern part of Italy. We were told that we were going to begin training for battle in the South Pacific, but before we got started the war in the Pacific ended. In June of ’46 we were told we were going home. When we got to New York Harbor, it was really a sight. There were tugboats shooting sprays of water, little planes and boats all over the harbor. The buildings had banners welcoming home the 442nd and they had a ticker tape parade for us in New York City. From there we were told we’re going to march in uniform for President Truman in Washington D.C. ‘Get your equipment in top shape.’ So we walked down Constitution Avenue in the rain. The President was standing in the rain waiting for us at the parade grounds near the White House. He presented the unit with another presidential citation.”
A little two room home on Terrace. Hershey continues, “We came home, but by the time I got home all the shouting was more or less down to zero. People were just trying to get back to living a normal life again. So I don’t remember that much of a homecoming then.”
Once back in Gallup, Hershey began working as a mechanic. Hershey and Terry were married in 1948 and lived “in a little two room home a little ways from my father on Terrace where he let us stay when we first got married. It had a kitchen, a little bath and a bedroom. It was our home until I came back from Korea.”
He ordered his squad to withdraw while he stayed behind. As a member of the reserves, Hershey was one of the first men called into service in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Hershey has never talked much publicly about the events that led to him being awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor in Korea or his 28 months as a prisoner of war in North Korea. He says, “Throughout the years, I made a point to just say so much about it and that’s it.”
The citation for Hershey’s Medal of Honor says that on April 24, 1951, Hershey’s squad was in a defensive position when the enemy attacked, threatening to overrun their position. Hershey jumped from his shelter and wielding a bayonet in hand-to-hand combat, killed approximately ten enemy soldiers. After returning to his position, he administered first aid to the wounded and directed their evacuation, as another assault hit the line. He manned his machine gun and delivered fire into the enemy’s charge until his ammunition was expended. He ordered the squad to withdraw while he remained behind to render the machine gun inoperative. He then bayoneted his way through enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisted in its operation. Hershey ordered his men to fall back while he remained to cover their movement. He killed more than fifty enemy soldiers before his ammunition was depleted. Although severely wounded, he maintained his stand and continued to repel the attack until his position was overrun. When last seen, he was fighting alone against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers.
“That’s one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw.” While a prisoner of war, Hershey remembers talking to another prisoner about his stand in battle. He says, “I believe it was Lee McKinney, but I’m not really sure. He was a P.O.W. from Clovis, New Mexico. I told him, I was either going to get court-martialed or I was going to get a medal. I didn’t know what my men told the commanding officer – whether they told him that they just took off or whether I told them to leave. But they finally did tell him that I told them to leave, that’s why I got the medal.” Hershey was worried because the battle was so sudden and dramatic that he never had a chance to communicate instructions directly to all the members of his squad. He didn’t know if the squad members he ordered to withdraw had passed his orders to the other members of the squad. He felt a responsibility to communicate directly to all of his squad, but that was impossible under the circumstances.
Hershey was one of the last men released from P.O.W. camp. He says, “Our numbers just got smaller and smaller every day, every week – whenever they called us out. This group I was in, we all felt ‘we’re not going home,’ so once they did release us and we crossed over the line to the American side we just couldn’t believe that we were actually released. You didn’t hear a sound. Normally you would hear guys yelling, but there wasn’t a sound made. We were in a state of shock, still not believing that we were actually released.”
“You know, when you see it day in and day out – them telling you you’re going to be released and you’re not released – after a while you say, ‘We’re not going to be released.’ That’s the feeling that we had. So, what made me realize we were finally back to the American side was when I saw that flag fluttering in the breeze.
That’s one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw.”
To be continued in next month’s Gallup Journey . . .