Tak Furumoto loves his wife and his country.
The two are intertwined, as it is his love of America that prompted Furumoto to volunteer for the Army during the Vietnam War, even as his Japanese American family had been moved to an incarceration camp during World War II. His love for his wife Carolyn is due to the unconditional loyalty she provided as he came home from Vietnam with PTSD, unable to work.
"She is my guardian angel," Furumoto said of Carolyn. "If it wasn't for her, I would have ended up homeless."
The couple has been together for 52 years. Carolyn moved across the country from California to New Jersey for her then boyfriend who had just come back from the war. Furumoto wanted to get away, and moved to the East Coast where he didn't know anyone. In New Jersey, he was fired from his job, and Carolyn ended up supporting him for some time before the couple launched Furumoto Realty in 1974.
As the business became successful due to the influx of Japanese immigration to northern New Jersey, Furumoto used his prominence to share his story and the stories of Asian American veterans. He spoke to civic organizations and to schools about his service, the internment of Japanese Americans and the proud bravery of Japanese American soldiers even as their families were sent to camps following Pearl Harbor. About 33,000 Japanese American soldiers were sent to serve in Europe, as the U.S. government didn't trust them. They were called Nisei, or second generation. The Nisei soldiers became known for their bravery. The100th/442 Infantry Regimentwas composed of second-generation Japanese Americans and became the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history, according to the National World War II Museum, with more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor.
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Not one Nisei soldier was charged with treason, even as the mood then was distrustful, Furumoto said.
He's been sharing this story throughout Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, including with E.W. Scripps Co.'s Courageous Conversations session Wednesday.
He also shared that his family lived in Los Angeles but was rounded up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and forced to relocate to an internment camp in northern California during World War II, with everything taken away from them.
That's why it's important to tell stories of Asian Americans in the military, as stereotypes exist of Asian Americans being foreigners, said Furumoto, 78.
During the Vietnam War era, Furumoto served as an intelligence and operations officer near the border with Cambodia. He wears his U.S. Army uniform with pride at events and parades while walking with marchers with signs bearing the number 442, reminding Americans of the bravery of the second generation Japanese American soldiers during the second World War.
"It's like a blanket to me," Furumoto said of his Army uniform. "It gives me comfort."
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