State Capitol photo exhibit highlights sacrifices, legacy of Japanese-American soldiers

A photography exhibit honoring Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II is seen outside Gov. Kate Brown's ceremonial office at the Capitol in Salem. It opens Monday. (Photo: Motoya Nakamura)

A photography exhibit opening at Gov. Kate Brown's office at the state capitol next Monday looks at the sacrifice and legacy of Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II.

Photographer Motoya Nakamura used a large format camera to capture the images of Oregon members of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

“These guys, not only brave but they had such perseverance, Nakamura said. “These men fought against Nazi forces during World War II when their own families were actually interned at home.”

As a first generation Japanese-American, Nakamura said he was unaware of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war and the subsequent formation of the 442nd in 1943 until he moved to Portland in 2000.

He photographed the veterans at home with their families in 2004 and again in 2009. All the veterans have since passed away.

“I wanted to show details of who they are and then who they became,” he said. “I wanted people to see their pride, where they come from. That was something I wanted to exhibit.”

One veteran, Harry Hisashi Inukai, posed just weeks before his death wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Freedom.” It was one of several of the same shirts he bought,

“He was afraid it would wear out,” Nakamura said.

The unit -- for its size -- was the most highly decorated unit during the war. They were credited with rescuing the so-called Lost Battalion of a Texas-based unit surrounded by German soldiers. Several attempts to rescue them failed.

“Finally, the 442nd broke through to rescue them,” Nakamura said. “But to do that they lost 200 people.

The photographs were nominated by a statewide committee of Oregon artists as part of the Art in the Governor's Office program administered by the Oregon Arts Commission, and is considered a once-in-a-lifetime honor. The exhibit runs through April 4.

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