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  • There are many stories that can be told about World War II, from the tragic to the inspiring.

  • But perhaps one of the most heartrending experiences was that of the Akune family,

  • divided by the war against each other and against their own identities.

  • Ichiro Akune and his wife Yukiye immigrated to America from Japan in 1918 in search of opportunity,

  • opening a small grocery store in central California and raising nine children.

  • But when Mrs. Akune died in 1933, the children were sent to live with relatives in Japan, their father following soon after.

  • Though the move was a difficult adjustment after having been born and raised in America,

  • the oldest son, Harry, formed a close bond with his grand uncle, who taught him the Japanese language, culture and values.

  • Nevertheless, as soon as Harry and his brother Ken were old enough to work,

  • they returned to the country they considered home, settling near Los Angeles.

  • But then, December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor.

  • Now at war with Japan, the United States government did not trust the loyalty of those citizens who had family or ancestral ties to the enemy country.

  • In 1942, about 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were stripped of their civil rights and forcibly relocated to internment camps,

  • even though most of them, like Harry and Ken, were Nisei American or dual citizens who had been born in the US to Japanese immigrant parents.

  • The brothers not only had very limited contact with their family in Japan, but found themselves confined to a camp in a remote part of Colorado.

  • But their story took another twist when recruiters from the US Army's military intelligence service arrived at the camp looking for Japanese-speaking volunteers.

  • Despite their treatment by the government, Harry and Ken jumped at the chance to leave the camp and prove their loyalty as American citizens.

  • Having been schooled in Japan, they soon began their service, translating captured documents, interrogating Japanese soldiers,

  • and producing Japanese language propaganda aimed at persuading enemy forces to surrender.

  • The brothers' work was invaluable to the war effort, providing vital strategic information about the size and location of Japanese forces.

  • But they still faced discrimination and mistrust from their fellow soldiers.

  • Harry recalled an instance where his combat gear was mysteriously misplaced just prior to parachuting into enemy territory,

  • with the white officer reluctant to give him a weapon.

  • Nevertheless, both brothers continued to serve loyally through the end of the war.

  • But Harry and Ken were not the only Akune brothers fighting in the Pacific.

  • Unbeknownst to them, two younger brothers, the third and fourth of the five Akune boys were serving dutifully in the Imperial Japanese Navy,

  • Saburo in the Naval Airforce, and 15-year-old Shiro as an orientation trainer for new recruits.

  • When the war ended, Harry and Ken served in the allied occupational forces and were seen as traitors by the locals.

  • When all the Akune brothers gathered at a family reunion in Kagoshima for the first time in a decade,

  • it was revealed that the two pairs had fought on opposing sides.

  • Tempers flared and a fight almost broke out until their father stepped in.

  • The brothers managed to make peace and Saburo and Shiro joined Harry and Ken in California, and later fought for the US Army in Korea.

  • It took until 1988 for the US government to acknowledge the injustice of its internment camps and approve reparations payments to survivors.

  • For Harry, though, his greatest regret was not having the courage to thank his Japanese grand uncle who had taught him so much.

  • The story of the Akune brothers is many things:

  • a family divided by circumstance, the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans, and the personal struggle of reconciling two national identities.

  • But it also reveals a larger story about American history:

  • the oppression faced by immigrant groups and their perseverance in overcoming it.

There are many stories that can be told about World War II, from the tragic to the inspiring.

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