Sunao Kamada faced the terrors of the Second World War war on the European Front and cruel prejudice when he returned home. Now 91-years-old, Kamada resides in Salmon Arm with his wife, Jean.
Kamada, a Japanese-American, fought for the U.S. Army in France and Germany during the final years of the war.
He and his family lived on the Hawaiian Island of Maui at the beginning of the war but were evacuated from their home because it was too close to an airport, he said.
“My father told me this: ‘Even though I am Japanese, you are an American, Japan will never win the war.’”
Kamada joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and went through training in San Diego and Alabama before being sent to Europe.
He was a rifleman assigned to the 442nd Infantry, a unit made up primarily of Japanese-Americans. The 442nd holds the distinction of being one of the most-awarded American units of the war and also suffered more casualties than almost any other unit.
Over the next eight months Kamada fought through France and into Germany, where he was badly burned by an incendiary bomb.
“Before I could take my pack off my back, it caught fire, I tried to get it off my back but I wasn’t fast enough,” Kamada said. “If it wasn’t for the pack, my backpack, it would’ve killed me.”
Kamada returned to his company after recovering from his wounds and continued on until the end of the war in Europe.
Kamada described Germany as a war-torn country following the war. His unit was moved back to France and then California shortly after the war was over.
Post-war America had its own set of challenges for Kamada as prejudice against Japanese people was common.
Kamada recalls signs in restaurants saying “No Japs Allowed” and being verbally abused in public.
“It was pretty hard for us. Even though I was still in uniform, they still called us Japs you know. I’m an American.”
Kamada described a confusing experience when travelling on a bus in Alabama. Portions of the bus were labeled white and black and so Kamada and his fellow Japanese-American soldiers did not know where they were supposed to sit.
After the war, Kamada re-enlisted in the army, this time with the 21st Infantry. It was a way to stay on the mainland with his first wife, whom he met in California, rather than returning to Hawaii.
Two of Kamada’s brothers also served in the U.S. military, one in the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War and the other in the Korean War.
Jean and Sunao met at a luau in Los Angeles in 1982, where Jean was working in the medical field. They have been together ever since and moved to Canada in 1986.
Jean is also a veteran, she joined the Canadian Air Force in 1957 and worked as a teletype operator.
Kamada said Americans celebrate their veterans in a similar to the way to Canadians.
Although he did not serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada has been a big help to Kamada, Jean said.
A certificate from the Canadian government hangs on the wall in Kamada’s house, thanking him for his contribution to the Allied war effort in the Second World War.