By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
In the spring of 1988, when I was in my early 30s, I took a forestry job in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is a college town 40 minutes away from downtown Denver. I gladly accepted the position because forestry jobs “don’t grow on trees.” To stay in the field that I had studied at the UW, I had to be willing to move.
On my first Thanksgiving in the Rockies, my mom and dad visited me. Before their arrival, I had asked Dad if there was anyone he wanted to look up. Both of my parents had spent part of WWII in Denver, so I knew they still knew people there.
One of two people Dad had asked me to call was Hachiro Kita, who lived in the west Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge. My meeting “Hatch” with Dad and Mom then was fortuitous for me, for the Kitas would become some of my best friends during the six years that I lived in Colorado.
For nearly everyone who visited it, the Kita home was fascinating. Hatch’s Tokyo-born wife Kyoko had at first found Denver boring. (Hatch had chosen it for his retirement due to its skiing.) To make her life more interesting, Kyoko had transformed their home into an informal “Japanese cultural center.” When I met her, she was teaching Japanese cooking, tea ceremony and ikebana three nights a week. Every Japanese person who happened to be in Greater Denver eventually discovered and became a friend of the Kitas.
Besides Mrs. Kita’s usual students, five of us essentially became the Kitas’ adult “kids.” The childless couple essentially adopted us, and we were all happy to hang out with them whenever we could. It was always great to receive a call from Kyoko.
“Debiddo, doyoubi no ban kinasai,” she would say. (David, come over Saturday evening).
Such a call always meant a fabulous multi-course Japanese meal.
While I was not a student of any of Kyoko’s subjects, the Kita home was of special interest to me because by then I had figured out that I was spending eight hours a week commuting to and from the forest and weekly to Denver. This was a large enough time block to learn something substantive by cassette tape. Accordingly, I had started taking Japanese classes on Saturday mornings at Simpson United Methodist Church, not far from the Kita residence. In this way, Hatch and Kyoko made perfect friends for me because they were real Japanese-speaking people I could practice with regularly.
By then, Hatch had lived over thirty years each in Japan and the US. His life story, in a nutshell, was that he was a Nisei who had been raised in Hawaii, speaking a lot of Japanese through waiting on Issei customers in a retail store. Later, he had moved to Seattle to work for his uncle, the proprietor of Taiheiyo (Pacific) Sweaters, on Jackson Street. It was from that location that he became a friend of the Yamaguchi family. After that, he had been swept into the army during WWII.
Today, the internet reveals that Hatch graduated from the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, in December 1942. Beyond that, we must piece together his later Pacific travels from the three things he mentioned about his military service across the years that I was regular contact with him:
• “That damned war ruined my life.”
• He had been assigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s command group.
“Wherever he went, I went.”
• “Tokyo was flat!” (It had been bombed so much, there were few tall standing buildings.)
Other than these statements, Hatch was silent on his military service. I did not press him on it, for the period seemed painful to him.
To place Hatch’s MIS graduation date in context today, US Army Nisei linguists like him first began proving their worth during the Battle of Guadalcanal, where they interrogated Japanese POWs and translated captured documents for the US Navy from January 1943. After that, General MacArthur began Operation Cartwheel that June. This was his island-hopping campaign from the South Pacific to the Philippines and on to Tokyo.
Hatch’s statements would later dovetail with what I would later learn from Seattle MIS veteran Hiro Nishimura, who overlapped with Hatch at Savage. Hatch’s Japanese “had been a cut above” most everyone else’s.
Today I understand why this was so. The first was that as an older NiseI, a decade older than my dad (born in 1921) and most Seattle Nisei, Hatch had simply spent more of his life speaking Japanese. In addition to being surrounded by Issei and from Hawaii, he didn’t grow up feeling shy about speaking Japanese in public.
As Hawaii-native Sarah Sato explains (highlighted in the Densho gala article, napost.com, Nov. 11, 2022), “We were in the majority.”
I bring up Hatch’s name today because his is among those listed in the appendix of MIS veterans in Bruce Henderson’s “Bridge to the Sun”.
In person, Hatch was an incredible, worldly guy. To listen to him discuss the news in his living room felt like listening to a college professor. Yet Hatch had not attended a day of college. There was little point to it, he explained, because in his day no one was going to give a Nisei a decent job. Nonetheless, his international life had become his classroom. When I knew him, he was always reading.
After the war and US Occupation, Hatch had remained in Japan. Like fellow MIS veteran Kazuo Yamasaki (husband of Fujie Yamasaki, napost.com, Aug. 2020), Hatch found work with the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA.
Throughout the time I knew Hatch, he was on my case about my Japanese. He was always correcting my words.
Together with his wife, Hatch positively influenced my life. Their home is where I truly began to learn to speak Japanese. After six years of learning from the Kitas and their friends, aided by a Sony Walkman, I was able to move on to my next forestry post with the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture (Norinsho) in Sapporo, Japan.
If all the MIS men were like Hatch, they were remarkable men indeed. Hachiro Kita (1910-1998) is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii. His brass plaque reads “TEC 4, US ARMY.”
Note. It is interesting to speculate how Hatch was recruited into the MIS so early. To graduate in its December 1942 class, he must have been among the 150 who began the intensive six-month course in June 1942 (James C. McNaughton, “Nisei Linguists,” 2006; napost.com, June 2022).
One possibility is that Hatch was among the 1300 Nisei already in the army on the US West Coast in Oct. 1941. These were the first interviewed for suitable Nisei linguists.
Alternatively, Hatch may have been tested that spring at Camp Harmony, the temporary incarceration camp for SeattleJapanese Americans at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Local Nisei Bill Hosokawa, who would later write the history of his generation in “Nisei, The Quiet Americans” (1969), was assessed there then. (But, his Japanese proved inadequate).
However Hatch’s recruitment happened, he was not around the JA camps long enough for his name to enter such government records. His name is absent from the Ireizo (napost.com, Dec. 9, 2022).