Jack Seitoku Nakamura was born February 13, 1923 in Ewa Village, Hawaii to Sontaku and Kaone Nakamura, both originally from Okinawa. He was the fifth of eight children – two girls and six boys. His parents worked on the Ewa Sugar Plantation, and as a child he would pull weeds at the plantation, receiving $1.86 for two weeks’ work.
Jack explains that while in school, his Caucasian teacher couldn’t pronounce his Japanese name, Seitoku, and began calling him “Jack”. At the age of twelve, Jack joined the Boy Scouts and eventually became an Eagle Scout. He attended high school at Waipahu High School and had hoped to go to college, but his mother asked him to continue working to help raise money for the family.
On December 7, 1941, Jack heard the bombings and joined his friends outside to watch the planes flying past. They were close enough that he could make out the pilots’ faces! He thought that it might be a drill of some sort, until one of the attacking planes shot at him and his friends. Everyone ran inside their houses, but he climbed onto his roof to watch as a dogfight broke out between an American and a Japanese airplane.
Jack’s older brother Sonsei was serving in the 298th Infantry (Hawaii National Guard), so Jack wanted to join as well but his mother forbade him, warning him that he might be sent to fight his cousins in the Pacific. As enlistment was closed to Japanese-Americans in the wake of the attack, Jack continued working on the plantation. However, once the Army re-opened enlistment for Japanese-Americans, Jack went with his friends and enlisted on March 23, 1943. His mother was not pleased, but told him, “If you’re going to go, do not embarrass the Nakamura name.”
Jack was sent to Camp Shelby to train and was assigned to the 442nd’s 1st Battalion. He felt that the drill instructors treated them very well. In Hattiesburg, Jack felt that the people initially looked down on Japanese-Americans, calling them “Japs” and making them ride in the back of the bus. However, after news reached the town about the heroism of the Nisei at Monte Cassino, he says that the people of the town treated them more kindly, and the bus drivers told them to ride in the front of the bus with the Caucasian riders.
After Monte Cassino, a call went out for volunteers to join the 100th Battalion as replacements. Jack volunteered and was assigned to Baker Company; his brother’s company. He was sent to Anzio and for the first week there was no action. In his first battle, an artillery round exploded near him, killing one of his friends and throwing him about thirty feet back. He recalled that he couldn’t see or hear anything for several minutes and assumed he was dead. He walked around looking for God, but when another soldier helped him he realized that he wasn’t dead. He received his first Purple Heart from that incident.
He continued fighting with the 100th/442nd in the Rome-Arno Campaign, then in the Vosges Mountains of France. He was again wounded in the Rescue of the Lost Battalion. While recovering in the hospital, a Caucasian soldier remarked to him, “I never thought I’d be so happy to see Japs!” A nurse snapped back, telling him, “He saved your life and you call him a Jap!?” Then she told Jack, “You should’ve left him there!”
The 100th/442nd returned to Italy and Jack fought as part of the breakthrough of the Gothic Line. Not long after, Germany surrendered and he was assigned to guard German POWs. He recounts asking two of them for their names – Erick and Rudolph – and asking them, “You don’t know me, and I don’t know you… why were we trying to kill each other?” He bought beers for them and they drank together. They had fun singing and laughing. When he awoke in his bunk with his rifle the next morning, he learned that he had passed out but the Germans had carried him to his bunk with his rifle.
After returning home, Jack initially worked at Barber’s Point as an inventory clerk. One day he went into a hair salon looking for a haircut, but the woman working said that she only did women’s haircuts. He was in love at first sight and tried to ask her out, but she declined. He persisted though, and in February 1948 he and Alice Hisae Matsuoka were married. They would have two kids together, and have three grandchildren.
He attended night school and eventually took a job with H&R Block. His boss noticed that he was particularly good at his job and Jack started teaching new employees there, as well as part-time at the community college. Later, Jack was hired by the IRS as a tax auditor, which he did until his retirement.
For his service during the war, Jack was appointed as a Knight of the French Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor) and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Jack has written his own memoir, which is available on the 100th Battalion’s website at https://www.100thbattalion.org/wp-content/uploads/Jack-Nakamura-Memoir.pdf.