Key K. Kobayashi was born in Fresno and orphaned at age 4. His older sister raised him and he attended the University of California. His college education was interrupted when he was sent to a relocation camp in Arizona with thousands of other Japanese-Americans. In 1945 he was drafted and sent to Manila and soon after to Tokyo, where he served as a translator.
Kobayashi, the Washington liaison for the National Nisei Organization, was part of a small but enthusiastic crowd last night at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for a preview of "Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People." Nisei is a term for second-generation American-born Japanese, and the half-hour documentary deals with their experiences in the U.S. military during World War II.
"It tells a very effective story," Kobayashi said of the documentary. "I was bitter when they put us in the camp. When they asked for volunteers I said, 'If they want me, they'll have to draft me.' "
Another veteran at the preview was Kelly Kuwayama, an employe at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kuwayama served as a medic and was often in the line of fire, but was reluctant to recount his war stories.
Did he ever have any close calls? "Yeah," Kuwayama said. "I was hit. Right here," he said, pointing to a spot above his right ear.
"Whenever they yelled 'medic' we would have to go and pick up the guy who was wounded. Generally, the main thing was to stop the bleeding, so you put a tourniquet on, and then we had morphine and all that."
"Nisei Soldier," in a sense, is a one-woman show. Loni Ding, a Chinese-American filmmaker and three-time Emmy Award winner, edited, produced, wrote and directed the documentary, which aired last night on WETA, Channel 26, and will be repeated at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Ding said that when she was making the film she spent hours in the National Archives. "In looking at hours of footage in silence, then you have a chance to think . . . I think what was striking to me was the quality of these men. I think they all had a tremendous sense of integrity. They had a commitment to each other in battle, to their families and to their country. I admire not just their physical courage, but their moral courage."
Ding said she is working on "an extended version of this which includes the untold story of the 6,000 Nisei who were in the military intelligence service in the Pacific and China, Burma and India."