Meet Kiyo Sato, Air Force Veteran (Vol II)


My father said of his children: “I don’t want anyone rich or famous. I just want nine good citizens.”

And so it happened. My five brothers and I served in the military. Steve volunteered in 1942 immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, later transferring to the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In 1944 Don served with the Military Intelligence Service in Japan. Ronald was stationed in Hawaii and Peter in California. George served in Korea. In 2011 the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award, was given to all members of the 442nd RCT and to the MIS, including my brothers Steve and Don. 

Under Executive Order 9066, those with one-sixteenth or more “Japanese blood” were incarcerated. I became prisoner #25217-C. Upon release from Poston Concentration Camp II, I volunteered for the Navy but was rejected because of my color. In 1951, with a nursing degree from Case Western Reserve University, I was accepted into the US Air Force Nurse Corps and assigned to the officers’ ward at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. My assignments included Clark Field in the Philippines and the FEAM COM Hospital in Japan during the Korean conflict. In 1952, I was discharged with the rank of captain. 

When our soldiers returned the most highly decorated unit in US history, they were not accepted into the National VFW, so the Nisei organized their own Posts. I serve as Post Surgeon and chair our Speakers Bureau, Veterans of Foreign Wars Nisei Post 8985, Sacramento, California. For thirty years we have been speaking to thousands of students from elementary to college level on “LESSONS FROM OUR LIFETIME: The Internment of Americans of Japanese Descent and the United States Constitution.” We also have many requests from nursing homes for our Post 8985 Ukulele/ Hula group, of which I am the oldest dancer at ninety-six.

I have four precious children by adoption and five grandchildren, a part of the five generations of multiracial “good citizens” my father wished for.

Photographer’s Perspective

Our meeting with Kiyo Sato, a woman with a decisive lilt to her step and a straightforward handshake, was a lesson in humility. At ninety-six she finds time to contribute to her community through volunteer work to help other veterans at the Rancho Cordova Vet Connect @ the Library Resource Program. An author and speaker, Kiyo was awarded the 2017 Woman of the Year Award from the California State Assembly for her extraordinary achievements, determination, and courage. 

Kiyo requested we photograph her at the 8985 Nisei VFW Post in Sacramento, designated after the end of WWII. In front of her on the display case is her VFW hat, a reminder of her service as a nurse during the Korean War. Kiyo’s Story, a book authored by Kiyo about the internment her family survived, which won a William Saroyan International Prize, is seen in the foreground. A long string of white Puka beads represents her love of hula dancing. “I’m the oldest hula dancer in our organization,” she told us. “I love getting up and joining the younger women to help keep the tradition alive.” On the wall behind her is a photograph of the Sato Family taken shortly before they were interned. Kiyo asked us to display it as a reminder to our country that we must, “Never Forget.”

Photo by James R. Morrison Photography