Minoru Ohye, 86, is a rare veteran: He served in both the Imperial Japanese Army, fighting the Soviet Red Army during World War II, and in the U.S. military during the Korean War.
His parents, both Japanese, moved to the United States because they wanted him to have dual citizenship, he told The Japan Times in Tokyo on Monday morning.
He had come to Japan to meet his only brother, Hiroshi Kamimura, 84, after a separation of some 60 years.
Dual citizenship gave him some curious experiences. Besides enabling him to live in either country, he also found himself subject to conscription in whichever nation he was residing at the time.
However, he doesn’t have any opinion about whether dual citizenship has been a good thing.
“It wasn’t my idea,” he says simply.
Of his vague memories about his wartime experiences, he remembers he wasn’t treated badly by his fellow American soldiers in Korea even though they knew he had fought in the Japanese military.
“I had no problem” serving with American soldiers, he says. “They treated me good.”
He didn’t seem to have any qualms about loyalty in serving for the two countries’ militaries, but Ohye, who has never been married, was always thinking about his family when he was in Korea.
“I couldn’t help but think about my mother and brother,” he says.
Ohye was born in Sacramento, California, in January 1926, soon after his parents had migrated to the U.S. His father died in an accident when he was 3 years old.
His mother sent him and Hiroshi to live with relatives in Japan, but Ohye says he left his uncle to join a voluntary military group to help colonize Manchuria.
Then the Imperial Japanese Army drafted him in June 1945 to fight the Soviets. He was taken prisoner and sent to Siberia to work in a coal mine. He didn’t know the United States had dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or that Japan had surrendered to end the war.
“I worked 14 hours a day in summertime” at the coal mine, Ohye says. He worked from sunrise to sunset, so he didn’t have to labor long hours in the winter. But he did have to suffer through the Siberian cold. He recalls how a thermometer broke with the temperature at minus 40 degrees.
He was given sparse rations, and the amount of food grew smaller and smaller each day, he says.
Ohye was freed from the coal mine in 1947 and returned to Japan by boat. That was when he found out about the A-bombings and Japan’s surrender.
In 1951, he returned to California. After the Korean War broke out, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to the peninsula.
After returning to the U.S. from Korea, he ran a Japanese restaurant, which he eventually had to close, and later engaged in gardening for almost 30 years. He now lives in a care house for U.S. veterans, Eskaton Wilson Manor, in West Sacramento.
Ohye and Kamimura met in Kyoto on Monday afternoon for the first time in almost 60 years.
The reunion was made possible because officials at Eskaton Wilson Manor and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were able to locate Kamimura at Ohye’s request.
Ohye flew over to Tokyo and was accompanied to Kyoto by Brian Berry, a University of Tokyo doctoral candidate in information technology and society in Asia. Berry volunteered to take Ohye to Kyoto at the requestion of his Japanese teacher.