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Norio’s Story: A Japanese American Korean War Veteran

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jao'Torey Johnson
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Young men found themselves thrust into the heart of the war, a relentless battleground where the scorching summer sun bore down on them, and the rumble of distant artillery echoed through the unforgiving landscape. Each step was a gamble with fate. Nights were fraught with terror. Camaraderie of fellow soldiers was the only solace amidst the chaos. The Korean War was a crucible that tested the limits of human endurance and brotherhood, leaving an indelible mark on the souls of many. This was the service Norio signed up for, but he had yet to learn how much it would impact him.

Norio Uyematsu's journey began in the quiet town of Brigham City, Utah. It was 1948, and the young man had just graduated from Box Elder High School. Norio, like many others of his generation, felt the patriotic call to serve his country. At just 17 years old, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in January of 1949, setting the course for a remarkable life.

Norio's service started with an unexpected turn when he shipped out. He initially received orders to Okinawa, Japan, but history had other plans. The invasion of communist North Korea into South Korea sent shockwaves through the world. Everything abruptly changed. In July of 1950, Norio found himself diverted from Okinawa and assigned to the 865th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Self-Propelled Unit at Camp Haugen in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture. The unit was later dispatched to guard Misawa Air Base.

It was a solemn duty protecting the base and its surroundings. The scars of World War II still marred the landscape.

"As a Corporal, I still can picture mothers with their small children and Japanese Army soldiers with missing limbs,” Norio recalled. “The city of Misawa was very small, at that time, with unpaved dirt streets. The people in Misawa were very cordial, and they were surprised to see a Japanese American in a U.S. Army uniform."

Norio's mission took on a deeper meaning as he witnessed the resilience of the Japanese people. He understood that his service was not just about safeguarding a base; it was about standing as a symbol of support for those in need.

In July of 1951, Norio was once again called to action, but this time in the heart of the Korean War. He found himself assigned to the 521st Military Intelligence Service Platoon, and his journey to Korea began. Norio served in the grueling war with dedication and honor.

He returned to civilian life in July of 1952, but his sense of duty and desire to honor those who served with him never wavered. As the years passed, Norio's life continued to be a testament to his motto, "You must endure hardship to succeed." His service and that of countless Japanese Americans in the Korean War earned the moniker of the "Forgotten War," but Norio was determined not to let their sacrifices be in vain. He became a 3-time Commander of the Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670, in Orange County, California and was a charter officer of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans organization.

In 2023, at the age of 92, Norio Uyematsu was recognized by Congressman Lou Correa for his service as a Japanese-American Korean War veteran. It was a moment of honor and gratitude for a man whose life had been a tapestry of service, sacrifice, and resilience.

Norio’s recognition by Congressman Correa also gave him the opportunity to return to Japan and take a tour of Misawa Air Base.

"I am so happy I was able to see Misawa again after 73 years," Norio said. “I could not believe how big the base had become, and now the base is used as Misawa’s public airport and home of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Navy.”

Norio Uyematsu's life, with all its challenges and triumphs, is a living testament to the indomitable spirit of those who serve their country. His story is one that should never be forgotten, a reminder of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who stepped forward in times of crisis, leaving a deep-rooted mark on history.

“I am fortunate to be able to continue to tell the story of those Japanese Americans who served in the Korean War,” Norio concluded. “There are not many of us left, but our service did make a difference.”