November 11th, 2008
09:54 AM ET

Veterans in focus: Brothers fighting brothers

John Torigoe

World War II didn't just divide the world. It also divided four brothers.

Not long after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Harry and Ken Akune were sent to live in an internment camp in Amache, Colorado. When the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Service came to their camp to recruit Japanese-speaking volunteers as interpreters, they joined so they could prove their loyalty to their country.

Across the world in Japan, their father Ichiro was raising the rest of his large family - which had returned to his home country after the death of his wife - in a fishing village, Kagoshima, on the island of Kyushu. The youngest brothers, Saburo and Shiro, were just teenagers when they were drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The brothers, four of the Akunes' nine children, had all been born or raised in the United States; Ichiro Akune owned a grocery business before moving back to Japan. Harry and Ken had been sent back to America to work and earn money for the family
Harry and Ken graduated from language school in 1942 and were dispatched to the Pacific Theater. Ken served in Burma at the Office of War Information. His job was trying to create propaganda to persuade the Japanese to surrender rather than sacrifice their lives on the battlefield. Harry served in New Guinea and the Philippines.

His ethnicity didn't endear him to some of his colleagues...


Filed under: Veteran's Day
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Diane - IL

    @ Melissa, I think Jane is talking about Japanese-Americans having paid up their war debts. What the Japanese nationals did during WWII is unforgivable, and what Americans did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is also. Many innocent people, including children were killed. War is unforgivable.

    Unfortunately, in the U.S. there is a lot of history that is not taught in schools. I never knew about the internment of Japanese-Americans until I was an adult, and I am Japanese/Chinese-American. My parents never spoke of it. There was a cloud of shame that many Japanese-Americans felt. This maybe a bit off topic, but our schools need to do a better job of including more of America's minorities' histories, good or bad, and not do just a glossing over of it. My daughter's high school textbook, only had one, maybe two sentences on the internment.

    November 11, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I thought the Japanese had apologized for WW2 – at least their part of it, especially Pearl Harbor. If they haven't then why did we have to apologize for dropping the bomb on them to end the war? Yes, I know the bomb was terrible, that it hurt many innocent children and women, etc. but so did the Japanese troops. I think our internment of loyal Japanese Americans here in America was terrible and I hope we have apologized for that. Not our best moment there.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    November 11, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  3. Jim

    Veteran's of all our wars deserve to know that someday there will be an America where all Americans vote without reqard to race. Even minorities.

    November 11, 2008 at 7:01 pm |
  4. Melissa, Los Angeles

    @ Jane I disagree that the Japanese has NOT paid their war debt. To this day they have never acknowledged much less apologized for their assassination of millions of innocent men, women and children in Nanking, China just prior to WW2. As a Chinese American I was disappointed that this was never mentioned in high school when WW2 was discussed. I had to learn on my own the atrocities the Japanese had perpetrated on women and children with the rapes they commited on them along with the torture bestowed on all of them prior to their death.

    The Japanese American's were honorable in fighting for us – I just wish the Japanese in Japan were just as honorable but they weren't and I'm disgusted by them for that.

    November 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm |
  5. jane

    The Japanese Americans were very loyal to the US. Not one prosecutable case of espionage on our soil – unlike German Americans. The intelligence officer who took the US soldier's rifle away should have been court marshaled. Maybe he did not make it back from Corregidor – he did not need to be coming back to home shores with that attitude. The Japanese paid their war debt. Did the Germans? No. Did the Italians? No.

    November 11, 2008 at 3:24 pm |
  6. Diane - IL

    Thank you for bringing this story to light. Not much is mentioned of Asian-Americans in US History and this story is a reminder that all ethnicities have made contributions to make our nation the great country that it is. I wonder if it was difficult for Ken and Harry Akune to fight in a war knowing that the rest of their family was in Japan, even though they say they did it to show that they were true Americans.

    Thank you Ken and Harry Akune and to all the veterans for the sacrifices that you have made for us.

    November 11, 2008 at 12:54 pm |