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Henry Suto


On this date in 1945, President Truman announced on national radio the unconditional surrender of Japan. His message, signaling the end of World War II, was met with wild jubilation across the country. But for one former North Dakotan, the news was bittersweet.

Henry Eiichi Suto was born in February of 1928 in Minot, North Dakota. His parents, first generation immigrants from Japan, operated a 24-hour café near the Minot railroad station. As Suto recalled, "about 50 Japanese people lived in Minot" and "it was a close community," meeting often for potlucks in the park. It was a happy time, but short-lived. When Suto's father and sister passed away in 1934, his mother packed up the remaining family and returned to Japan. Only seven years old and unfamiliar with the Japanese language, Suto worked hard to fit in. So, when he was approached by his teacher to sign up for the Japanese Army ten years later during World War II, he agreed. Like most soldiers fighting for Japan, Suto was certain of a Japanese victory. So when the Emperor admitted defeat in 1945, he was stunned. As he later remembered, it took a few days to accept the news.

After the war, Henry Suto worked for the American occupation force in Japan. He was impressed by MacArthur's work and appreciated the clean quarters and "American way of living." So when he later returned to the United States to live with his uncle's family in California, he found he easily fit back into American life. In a interview, Suto recalled, "While I was working on occupation forces, I think I had the feeling [of freedom] coming into my system or my heart, and so by the time I came here to the United States, the freedom of speech or freedom of whatever did not come as a surprise."

Within months of enrolling in school in California, the one-time Japanese soldier was drafted into the US Army to fight in the Korean War. Although trained to serve on the front lines as a Korean language interpreter, he was instead sent to Japan. Once discharged, Henry Suto returned to California, studied foreign trade and took a position with the Otagiri Company. The former North Dakotan with an unusual resume that included military service in both the Japanese and US Army passed away in 2008 at the age of 80.

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall


"Discover Nikkei: Japanese Migrants and Their Descendants", Japanese American National Museum. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/profiles/123/