Sometimes patriotism shines brightest in those who ask the least from their country in return. During World War II, a dedicated group of Japanese American volunteer soldiers became the most highly decorated regiment of its size in U.S. history, recognized for their bravery overseas even as their family and friends were forced into internment camps back home. So when Paul Osaki saw Staff Sergeant Tadashi Furuike’s jacket from that regiment on eBay, he understood its historic importance — and bought it to honor the soldier’s memory. Little did he know that he would also reconnect a daughter with her father as a result.
In the early 2000s, Paul Osaki, the executive director of the nonprofit Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, opened a store with some friends in San Francisco called Nikkei Traditions. Created to highlight Japanese American artisanship and history, the shelves were stocked with colorful artwork, handicrafts and T-shirts, and the place became a gift-buying destination in Japantown.
One of the items that Paul stocked for the store was a limited-edition, Nisei G.I. Joe soldier doll that he bought on eBay. These dolls, popular with collectors, were modeled after the renowned 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (442nd RCT), a segregated group of Japanese American soldiers in World War II. Many of those soldiers volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army, determined to contribute to the war effort even as they were often coming straight from Japanese American internment camps.
“The exploits of the 100th/442nd RCT are legendary and historic, but they paid the ultimate price to prove their loyalty as Americans, to a country that believed them to be the enemy,” Paul said, since that regiment had the highest combat casualty rate of any in World War II, often being sent into the front lines of battle. Indeed, within two years of combat, the 442nd had earned more than 18,000 awards — including almost 10,000 Purple Hearts; 4,000 Bronze Stars; 21 Medals of Honor; and eight Presidential Unit Citations.
One day, as Paul was trawling eBay for Nisei G.I. Joe dolls, he happened across a World War II Eisenhower jacket. In near-pristine condition, it was listed for auction with a “Go for Broke” shoulder patch, which was the 100th/442nd RCT’s unofficial slogan. “I was shocked and really excited, I’d never seen an actual jacket worn by one of the members of the regiment for sale,” Paul said, and he jumped into the bidding, checking on its status many times per day. “It was nerve-wracking. I didn’t want it to go to someone that wouldn’t care about it, but I didn’t know how much to bid, since our store didn’t really make any money,” he said with a laugh.
Paul won the auction with a $500 bid. “The jacket looked really lonely in the photos, and I knew there was a lot of meaning and story behind it. I thought, we’re going to save this jacket. We’re going to bring it back home to the community, to the place its owner helped protect during the war — we’re going to find the owner of this jacket or his family.”
Upon arrival at the store, the jacket was immediately given a place of honor on a mannequin, and Paul wrote up a description of both the 100th/442nd RCT and the owner of the jacket to place on a placard alongside. The name “Tadashi Furuike” was penned in the jacket, and Paul pored over military books, trying to uncover more about the soldier. “As soon as we got the jacket, I said, ‘I gotta find this person,’” Paul said.
After much searching, Paul found a book that listed everyone in the unit and their awards, but he wasn’t able to find any contact information for Tadashi. “There was just nothing on the internet about him,” Paul said.
Meanwhile, the jacket proved a huge draw at the store. “People loved seeing it; they thought it was the coolest thing, especially because it still had all Tadashi’s ribbons and medals on it,” Paul said. The Smithsonian even asked to borrow the jacket for an exhibition, as did the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii. But Paul graciously declined, always believing the jacket truly belonged with Tadashi’s family.
In 2009, Paul and his friends closed their store, and Paul stashed the jacket in a box in his mother’s house for safekeeping. A decade passed before Paul happened upon the jacket again while cleaning out his mother’s garage. He thought of Tadashi and decided to check the internet once more and this time, there was a result: an obituary. “It took me a while to even click on it,” Paul said.
When he did, he saw that Tadashi had gone by “Ronald,” an anglicized name that probably had hindered Paul’s search years before. The obituary listed Tadashi’s daughter, Donna, as his closest living relative, and after more online sleuthing, Paul found Donna’s email and reached out with a message. “She wrote back and said, ‘Yes, that’s my father,’” Paul remembered. “And literally all these tears started coming up. Because after so many years of searching, I’m finally connecting him back to his family. It was a really emotional experience.”
Donna, for her part, was floored by the news of her father’s jacket. Though she had Tadashi’s two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, she didn’t realize the jacket still existed. “My dad never talked about the jacket or his uniforms, only his medals on rare occasions,” Donna said. “I had no idea his jacket was somewhere out there.”
So on Veteran’s Day weekend in 2019, Paul sent Tadashi’s jacket back to his daughter. “When I was opening the box from Paul, I kept thinking, ‘Wow, dad, this is your history. I wish you were here to open it,’” Donna said. “Then I started crying.”
“I am so happy to have a part of dad back with me,” Donna said. “Paul has opened my eyes to a part of dad's history that he rarely shared with me. To know that my dad played a part in what the 100th/442nd RCT did for America is amazing. Words cannot express my awe for those soldiers. They sacrificed a lot for us.”
Paul learned a great deal more about Tadashi from Donna. Tadashi was born in 1925 in Oahu, Hawaii, then joined the U.S. Army in 1943. He had fought through four major campaigns in Europe, part of them with Sen. Daniel Inouye, a lifelong friend who once wrote to Tadashi in a telegram, ‘There were times when I felt you were a bit too courageous. There should be a limit to one’s bravery.’” Tadashi finally only came home when the war ended in 1945.
Though neither Donna nor Paul know how the jacket turned up on eBay, they appreciate the connections enabled by the global marketplace. “It felt like finding the jacket — there was such purpose to it,” Paul said. “I never would have found it any other way, if there wasn’t a vehicle like eBay to connect history with people today.”