Holocaust, a name that brings back memories of the darkest era ever witnessed- world war two. A time where millions of Jews were mass slaughtered and what remained was nothing but a huge void of pain and terrific memories. The well-planned event that took place some centuries back still gives chills down our bones every time we hear about the stories. But that doesn’t mean the cries should stop or the tales should be forgotten. Instead, it is these cries that make us remember what happened and forbid one from happening again.
The stories that came out following the war were tragic yet in unexpected ways inspiring. The story of the Akune Brothers brings back the miserable memories of World War Two. It was one of the most heartwarming experiences felt by the Akune Family that could have been resulted in lifelong depression but survived by luck.
Siblings that fought the same war on opposite sides.
In 1918, many immigrants were coming to the United States for better job opportunities and livelihood. Just like them Ichiro and Yukiye Akune were one of the couple from Japan who immigrated to California. They set a local grocery store and build a life for themselves. Together they had nine children. As these kids were born in the United States, they bore dual citizenship, one of Japan and the other of the US.
Yukie died in 1933, after which all the children were sent to live with their relatives in Japan, Ichiro followed them later. The boys there had a very close bond with their uncle with whom they learned the Japanese language, culture, cuisine, and values. The oldest among the nine children, Harry, was very attached to his uncle and spent most of his time learning about Japan and its culture.
However, once the eldest two brothers were old enough to earn, Harry (Masami) and his brother Ken (Kenjiro) returned to California to find work. They both found their birth nation incredible and made a fair living in the US, yet the tragedy came on December 7, 1941, on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The two of them noticed that the country in which they were born and to which they returned, were becoming increasingly hostile to citizens of Japanese heritage.
The following year, Harry and Ken were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly relocated to internment camps in Colorado despite their US citizenship. Most of them were Nisei, with both US and Japanese citizenship. The brothers had very limited contact with their relatives and thus they were unable to share or receive any updates from the latter.
The Akune Brothers were soon actively recruited by the U.S. Army’s military intelligence service, which was seeking volunteers who could speak Japanese. And in order to regain their lost identities and prove their loyalty to America, they did enlist as shown in World War II enlistment records. They followed their duty heartily and on every occasion proved their loyalty to the country.
They played a vital role in interrogating the Japanese prisoners and translating captured Japanese messages and documents. They even produced Japanese language propaganda which helped the American soldiers in persuading the enemy to surrender. The brothers played an important role in providing vital strategic information. Yet despite their loyalty to the country, both of them face discrimination on the ground level. In one incident Harry’s combat gear was mysteriously misplaced just before the attack but the white soldier refused to provide him one.
Brother against Brother.
But despite this mistreatment and mistrust, both Harry and Ken were loyal to the army. The twist in their story came when the war ended. Harry and Ken weren’t the only Akune brother who fought World War 2. Unknown to the brothers, their two younger brothers in Japan were serving the Japanese army during the war, too. They served in the Imperial Japanese Navy, Saburo in the Naval airforce, and Shiro as an orientation trainer for the young recruits. If either of them had died during the war, the rest of the brothers would get to know of the news only after the war, and that would have been the most heartbreaking moment for any family.
After the war, Harry and Ken served in the allied occupational forces. They were seen as traitors by their community. When the brothers returned to Japan to meet their family, only then did they discover that their younger brothers were serving dutifully for Japan. The first encounter with the truth resulted in a fight with all of them defending the sides they fought for claiming the other as traitors. The fight resolved when their father stepped in and the brothers made peace.
A few years later Shiro and Saburo came to California along with their brothers and later all of them together fought with the US army against Korea.
Only a few families have such a unique World War II story.