Arthur Saburo Kitagawa, 95, of Ardmore, a decorated World War II veteran who fought on the side of the Allied forces despite being interned by the U.S. government, died Tuesday, July 19, of complications from a stroke at Abington Hospice Hospital.
A native Californian, Mr. Kitagawa graduated from the High School of Commerce in San Francisco in 1938. Two years later, he graduated from San Francisco Junior College with a degree in business and secretarial skills. He hoped to become a businessman.
However, the surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, changed everything, stoking an outpouring of hatred and suspicion toward Mr. Kitagawa and the 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry living on the Pacific Coast.
Believed by federal officials to be a security risk, they were forced into barbed-wire internment camps in the country's interior. Most had to abandon their property.
Despite the harsh prejudice with which he was treated, Mr. Kitagawa was so eager to prove his loyalty to the United States that in May 1943 he volunteered for the Army right out of the internment camp in Topaz, Utah.
His unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team - made up entirely of Japanese Americans - later merged with the 100th Infantry Battalion, Company D. It became famous for its prowess in battle.
Its members were roughly three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than other soldiers, but the unit fought with such ferocity and sustained so many casualties that it was known as "the Purple Heart battalion." Purple Hearts are given to recognize war wounds.
Mr. Kitagawa's unit participated in the liberation of Rome and saw combat in France and Germany. He and his fellow soldiers helped to free prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich.
The irony of U.S. internment prisoners freeing German prisoners of war was not lost on Mr. Kitagawa, the Stars and Stripes reported in 2014.
"The German camp's prisoners were surprised to see us - Japanese Americans," he told the military newspaper. "We were also in concentration camps in the United States."
Mr. Kitagawa crossed the Atlantic in February 1944. The men were deployed to the beaches of Anzio, Italy, their mission to launch a diversionary assault just before D-Day. The battalion defeated the Germans at Anzio and later liberated the French towns of Biffontaine, Belmont, and Bruyeres.
Mr. Kitagawa was wounded in action Oct. 27, 1944, in France.
He received a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Unit Badge, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon, and the French Legion of Honor Medal on March 26, 2014, at the French Embassy outside Washington.
He was honorably discharged in December 1945 and returned home to his studies, earning a bachelor's degree in foreign affairs from George Washington University in 1949.
He was an executive assistant for Davis Advertising in Center City before retiring in 1987.
Mr. Kitagawa's approach to life was shaped by the racial prejudice he silently endured before and after World War II. He was never bitter.
"He strove to 'do the right thing' and not call attention to himself," his family said. "He treated others the way he would have liked to be treated."
Mr. Kitagawa enjoyed deep-sea fishing, playing poker and bridge, tennis, traveling across country, gardening, and eating.
He married Yori Shimasaki Kitagawa in May 1943. She died in 1995. He is survived by daughters Katherine Mount and Ellen Shapiro, sons Martin and Ronald, and two grandchildren.
A service with full military honors will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 1, in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, 830 Highland Rd., Newtown.