The Secret Role of the Japanese Americans Who Fought in the Pacific in World War II
In his new book Bridge to the Sun coming out on September 27, 2022, Bruce Henderson, master storyteller, historian and New York Times best-selling author, tells a gripping true tale of the courage of the Japanese-American U.S. Army soldiers who fought in the Pacific theater, while many of their families back home in America were incarcerated behind barbed wire in camps by the U.S. government. Their contribution is one of the last, great untold stories of World War II, kept hidden for decades. The story of the larger, all-Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldiers who were sent to fight in Europe has been covered in many books and media.
After Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. military was desperate to find Americans who spoke Japanese to serve in the secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS) in the Pacific war. They soon turned to the Nisei—first-generation U.S. citizens whose parents were immigrants from Japan. Eager to prove their loyalty to America, several thousand Nisei—many volunteering from the camps in which they were incarcerated—were selected by the Army for top-secret training, then were rushed to the Pacific theater. Highly valued as expert translators and interrogators, these Japanese American soldiers operated in elite intelligence teams alongside Army infantrymen and Marines on the front lines of the Pacific war, from Iwo Jima to Burma, from the Solomons to Okinawa.
Henderson reveals, in riveting detail, the harrowing untold story of the Nisei and their major contributions in the war of the Pacific, through six Japanese American soldiers. After the war, these soldiers became translators and interrogators for war crime trials, and later helped to rebuild Japan as a modern democracy and a pivotal U.S. ally.
About the Speakers
Bruce Henderson is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books, including Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler and True North: Peary, Cook and the Race to the Pole. He is the co-author of the number-one New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell (with Vincent Bugliosi). An award-winning journalist who has taught reporting and writing at the USC School of Journalism and Stanford University, Henderson lives in northern California.
Garrett Hongo is a fourth generation Japanese-American poet, memoirist, writer and academic. His poetry explores the experiences of Asian Americans, using imagery, narrative techniques and myth to address cultural alienation and the trials of immigrants, include the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II, as well as anti-Japanese sentiment today. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The River of Heaven (1988), one of his three published poetry collections. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. His latest book is The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo.
This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.
An Asia Pacific Affairs Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.
Henderson photo by Sean Marrs; Hongo photo by Steven Varni; main image is from cover of book.
The Commonwealth Club of California
Author, Bridge to the Sun
In conversation with Garrett Hongo