Seeking stamp of approval:Supporters want postal stamp honoring Nisei WWII veterans; Riverdale woman leads local effort
Doris Dias of Riverdale has been seeking Valley support for a proposed U.S. commemorative stamp that honors Japanese-American World War II soldiers. (Apolinar Fonseca)

If there is such a thing as a color-blind patriot, Doris Dias may well qualify as one. Having grown up on a dairy in the conservative South Valley, Dias, a second-generation American of Portuguese descent, is not shy about expressing her affection for, as well as critiquing, the United States and its actions now and in the past.

The 71-year-old Riverdale resident has a lot to say about the state of America today — be it wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal immigration or the irresponsibility of the financial industry revealed through the economic crisis.

And nothing riles her up more than the U.S. Postal Service's decision last year to immortalize The Simpsons of television cartoon fame with a stamp rather than honoring the Japanese-American men and women who served in World War II.

For the last two years, Dias has been walking neighborhoods and visiting community groups, collecting signatures and seeking Valley support for the proposal for a U.S. commemorative stamp that honors Japanese-American World War II soldiers as part of a nationwide campaign.

"So many gave their lives when they could've not volunteered and could've stayed in the encampment. No, they wanted to prove that they were loyal Americans," Dias said.

Some 20,000 Japanese-American World War II veterans, also referred to as Nisei (a term used to denote the second generation) veterans were either drafted or volunteered to fight for the United States and the Allied forces. Meanwhile, their families were denied their civil rights as they were sent into internment camps and their possessions were confiscated by the state.

The service of the Nisei is legendary, as their 442nd Regimental Combat Team — which freed a Texas battalion trapped by the enemy in France while losing four men for every Texan saved — became one of the most highly decorated unit in American military history. Those who served in the Pacific Theater in the military intelligence service are also credited for shortening the war and saving countless lives.

"What really upsets me is that (the Postal Service) has never recognized these people for being loyal to their country, which is my country, despite the fact that their families were put in detention camps because of their ancestry," Dias said. "In France, 800 of them died to save 211 Texans as one unit. Does that sound fair?"

Dias derives her passion for the cause from her friendship with a few Japanese-American women in Los Angeles who are widows of Nisei veterans. Dias, who has recently returned to Riverdale from Southern California, is continuing the campaign in the Valley.

She is far from alone in the effort.

The Hanford Veterans of Foreign Wars, Nisei Liberty Post No. 5869, whose members include veterans who served in the 442nd infantry regiment, recently endorsed the effort. Non-Japanese-American communities, such as the American Jewish Committee, have also endorsed the campaign. The campaign is culminating this month, because the U.S. Postal Service Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee will consider the Nisei stamp proposal on July 30 and 31.

Those heading the campaign say the momentum is building.

"We've been rejected annually, but each year we show that there is broadening public support for such a stamp," said Wayne Osako, stamp campaign co-chairman.

What started six years ago as a small, informal grass-roots effort by three Japanese-American women, two of whom are widows of Nisei veterans, has now developed into an international campaign.

Recently, the legislatures of Oregon and Washington passed resolutions to support the stamp campaign, joining Hawaii, California, Illinois and Arizona, Osako said. Support even comes from some of the French people, who remember that the Japanese-American troops liberated and protected them during the war.

"Regardless of what the postal service says this time, we're going to continue the campaign … ," Osako said. "Hopefully they'll say yes."

The outcome, though, remains uncertain.

The committee has denied the proposal each of the past five years, citing an informal policy not to issue a stamp to honor individual sub-branches, units or divisions of the military.

Nisei veterans are among some 2.7 million American World War II veterans who are quickly dying off at the rate of 1,400 a day nationwide. When it comes to Nisei veterans, there just aren't many left. That provides the backdrop for the sense of urgency felt among the backers of the stamp.

"We want to help preserve the legacy of these veterans," Osako said. "It's such a proud American history that I think you don't have to be a Japanese American to be moved and inspired by what they did. It's no secret … It would really enrich everybody to learn about what the Japanese-American World War II veterans did."

A group of local World War II veterans is also supporting the campaign.

John Randall, 89, of Hanford is among them.

"I think it's a good deal because Japanese Americans were really the most decorated unit in Europe, and their parents were interned," said Randall, a World War II veteran who survived some intense battles in the Philippines.

Randall isn't a Japanese American. But he decided to join a local Nisei post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars several years ago when he was invited. Today, he is the post's vice commander.

"My wife and I went to school with a number of Japanese kids in Grangeville. We went to school with them, and they were great friends," Randall said. "I had my reservations about joining because I fought the Japanese in the South Pacific. But then our friends' parents were interned. Several of them are very personal friends of ours. One day I was asked if I wanted to join. I signed up as a life member."

The reporter can be reached at 583-2429.

U.S. Postal Service Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee will consider the Nisei stamp proposal on July 30 and 31.

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