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No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai’i during World War II by Franklin Odo + Author Interview [in AsianWeek]

Franklin OdoA Legacy of Change

‘Write what you know best’ is the advice that writers probably hear most often. And for Franklin Odo, activist, academic, and museum curator extraordinaire, that’s exactly what he does. His latest title, No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i during World War II (Temple University Press), takes him back to his native Hawai‘i to explore the experiences of a shrinking group of Japanese American men who survived World War II as part of the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV).

Made up of about 170 young American men of Japanese descent, the VVV was a non-military group that performed public service – mining rocks in local quarries, building roads, repairing public property — on O‘ahu in 1942. Although no one recalls how the group got its name, the VVV was officially designated the Corps of Engineers Auxiliary and attached to the 34th Combat Engineers Regiment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In spite of their American-born status, for over a year after Pearl Harbor the men of VVV were classified 4C – “aliens ineligible to serve in the armed forces of the United States.”

More than half a century later, the VVV’s legacy of loyalty and service to their homeland — the United States of America — remains a largely untold story. Until now: No Sword hits bookstores this week.

As the founding director of the Asian Pacific American Program at the Smithsonian Institution and the first and only Asian Pacific American curator at the National Museum of American History, Odo has long dedicated his life to giving voice to those who have gone unheard for far too long. So it’s no surprise that his writings adhere to exactly the same goals.

Just over a year ago, Odo published The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Documentary History of the Asian American Experience (Columbia University Press, 2003), the first book that brought together the canon of documents that are of utmost importance to APA history. Almost two decades prior in 1985, Odo published A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawai‘i 1885-1924, which opens with the experiences of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i and ends with the 1924 exclusionary laws that effectively denied further Japanese entry into the United States. Meanwhile, Odo’s Roots: An Asian American Reader, which Odo wrote with Amy Tachiki and Eddie Wong in 1971, was the first bona fide APA breakout text.

With the addition of No Sword to his repertoire, Odo has plans for two future titles that delve further into unexplored aspects of the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i: “I want to suggest the richness available in the stories from one single ethnic group in one single location across two generations,” he explains. That should keep him busy doing what he
knows best for decades to come.

AsianWeek: Where did your initial interest in the VVV come from? What’s the genesis of this project?
Franklin Odo: Members of the VVV first approached me. Hung Wai Ching, a Chinese American who is included in the book, made the actual contact with me in 1984, suggesting that this was a very important topic about some important people. Of course, I had long had an interest in the experiences of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i so this was an unexplored area of that history that further fueled my interest. …[click here for more]

Author interview: “A Legacy of Change: Franklin Odo debuts his latest book, No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i during World War II,” AsianWeek, January 30, 2004

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004


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