Fernando Joseph Sosa Masuda

Fernando Joseph Sosa Masuda was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 26, 1925.  He was the youngest son of seven children (four sons and three daughters) of Yonezo and Guadalupe (Sosa) Masuda.  Yonezo was from Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.  Guadalupe arrived in the U.S. from Querétaro, Mexico, in 1913.  They married about 1918 and their first four children were born in El Paso, Texas.  They moved to California about 1923 and their three younger children were born there.  Yonezo died in 1927 at sea on a trip to Japan to take care of some family business.  In the 1930 Federal Census, the family consisted of widow Guadalupe S. Masuda and her seven children at 616 Centennial Street, Los Angeles.  She grew up speaking Spanish and could not speak English at this time.  Everyone was listed as Mexican.

In the 1940 Federal Census, the family was listed by mother Guadalupe’s maiden name, Sosa.  And she was listed as Lupe.  They rented the apartment at 2739-3/4 Brooklyn Avenue (since changed to Cesar Chavez Avenue), located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood just east of “Little Tokyo,” in Los Angeles.   They were living there by April 1935.  Everyone was listed as White.  The eldest daughter was now married and living in the apartment at 2739-1/2 Brooklyn Avenue.  The two eldest sons, Ernesto and Alfonso, were employed as mechanics in an auto repair shop and a radiator shop, respectively.

They lived in a predominately Mexican neighborhood and the children were taunted by Mexican students for being half-Japanese.  At the urging of the oldest daughter, their sympathetic school principal at a new school allowed them to register under their mother’s name Sosa, rather than Masuda.  The new family identity melded seamlessly into the neighborhood over the years until the day when Fernando wanted to follow the lead of his three older brothers, who had joined the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Because the Selective Service drew student names from the local School Board lists, Fernando signed his WWII Draft Registration card as Fernando Joseph Sosa on his 18th birthday, May 26, 1943, in Los Angeles, at Local Board No. 199.  He was living with his family and his mother, Lupe Sosa, was his point of contact.

Fernando had wanted to be a sailor like his brother Alfonso.  He was told to bring a copy of his birth certificate with him when he submitted his application to enlist in the Navy.  As the Secretary of the Navy had mandated that no one of Japanese heritage could enlist in the Navy, Sosa’s request raised red flags.  Unknown to him at the time, his request for a duplicate birth certificate drew the scrutiny of the FBI, which set out to question the local businesses and neighbors about any suspicious activity by Fernando. One incident that Fernando later recalled was when he entered a shop one day the Italian owner pointed a finger at him, saying, “You’re Japanese!”  Fernando had no idea what he was talking about and denied the claim.  Fernando was unaware of his lineage.  His father had died when he was only 2, and he did not realize he was half-Japanese.  As he would later say, “Nobody told me.”

The FBI report affected Fernando’s siblings.  Soon, all their neighbors and the local stores where they shopped knew about the “Japanese” Sosa family and their life became very difficult.  Despite the authorities knowing they were half-Japanese, his sisters were never told they had to evacuate the West Coast or threatened with incarceration at a WRA internment camp (see section on internment camps on our website).  However, according to a family member they were made to wear a badge that identified them as Japanese.

His older brothers were already serving in the military.  A point of confusion for Fernando and Frank was that Alfonso was a sailor, so they could not understand why they were denied entry to the U.S. Navy.  What they did not know was that Al had found a way to change his surname on his birth certificate to Sosa.  He had seemingly been on course to become a Gunner on a ship, but now he was restricted to being an ammunition carrier for the Gunner’s Mate.  Frank, in the Army, was given a WWI-era sniper rifle that shot only one bullet at a time, despite not qualifying as a Sharpshooter on the firing range.  He was later issued an M-1 rifle before he was shipped to the Philippines for combat with the 1st Cavalry Division (F Troop, 5th Regiment).  Frank was also among the first occupation troops to enter Japan.

Sosa was eventually cleared by the FBI and inducted into the U.S. Army on September 9, 1944, at Fort Douglas, Utah, a major induction center for the western United States.  He was listed as Japanese, a California resident, a U.S. citizen, and his civilian occupation was given as “skilled mechanics and repairmen, motor vehicles.”

After Fernando completed basic training at Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia, he was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and shipped to Italy.

By the time Sosa arrived in Italy, however, it was announced that Germany had surrendered (May 8, 1945).  He was stationed in Livorno (also known as Leghorn) with the 442nd during the post-war occupation, conducting such duties as processing and guarding German POWs.

As Fernando had not grown up around other Japanese Americans, being in an all-Nisei unit was, to say the least, a culture shock to him.  His discomfort was compounded by the fact that others suspected him of being a “spy” sent by the “brass” to keep an eye on them.  He later remembered feeling like “a fish out of water.”  His memory of the turning point in his relationship with his fellow soldiers was one day as he returned from guard duty and saw a group of them shooting craps.  He then noticed some money on his bunk, which everyone claimed to know nothing about.  It turned out that they knew he was broke and thus had made no plans for his upcoming furlough.  So they had decided to all pitch in and give him some money.  They let him know by this generous gesture that he was “one of the boys.”  Brothers Hideo and Masao Terashita, also of Company F, who had already befriended him, later admitted their part in the plan.  The three of them soon traveled together to Switzerland on their furlough.  (Note:  At this time, the term “furlough” meant a period of time off for a soldier for rest and relaxation.)

In addition to guard duty Sosa also screened movies for the American troops.  Seeing how restless and bored the German POWs were, he felt sorry for them and scrounged up a broken film projector, which one of the Germans was able to fix.  One evening as he was showing a movie, after starting the second reel he went to hand off the first reel to one of the POWs.  His plot, however, had been discovered by his lieutenant who broke up the exchange and threatened to have Sosa court-martialed.  This lieutenant was well known for his animosity toward and constant taunting of the German POWs.  The next day Fernando reported, as ordered, to his Commanding Officer.  With the angry lieutenant standing nearby, as he later recalled, “The CO reached out and shook my hand and told me I was a humanitarian, then placed stripes in my hand promoting me to the rank of corporal.”  It was Sosa’s best memory of the war.

 After he was discharged from the Army in 1946, Fernando returned to Los Angeles.  He married Lorenza Bonilla and they raised a family of four daughters.  He worked as a mechanic and later in aerospace fabrication at Aerojet and Lockheed.  As of this writing (2021), he lives in Southern California.

On July 24, 2019, he was honored as the Military Hero of the Game at Dodger Stadium for Japan Night at the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Los Angeles Angels baseball game.

On March 31, 2020, Fernando, accompanied by Mitch Maki (President/CEO of the Go For Broke National Education Center), was taken to meet the son of his army buddy Hideo Terashita.  On the flight (right), the pilot announced that there was a WWII Veteran on board.  The entire plane applauded for him!

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