At 12, Theodore Kanamine’s life changed dramatically.
Under orders from the United States, Kanamine and his family hastily packed up their North Hollywood home and were bussed to a prison camp in Arkansas.
Kanamine no longer saw Walt Disney show local children unfinished cartoons at his studio. Instead, barbed wire decorated the perimeter and guard towers kept a close watch on the prisoners. Still, Kanamine has adjusted to his new life.
Although the family was among the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry the United States incarcerated during World War II, Kanamine remained unfazed by one of the darkest chapters in US history. United.
“His conviction was that they had been put in an internment camp because the United States was a scared country,” said his daughter Laura Rutizer. “He didn’t know what to do, so they just reacted like a scared country would.”
In fact, Kanamine turned to military service after his discharge and became a highly decorated general – the first active-duty Japanese American general in the U.S. Army, according to U.S. Army spokeswoman Heather J. Hagan.
“Through his many high-impact, unsung actions, General Kanamine’s rich and valuable military service has been filled with key peacetime and wartime deputy assignments,” the military police force shared. US Army on its Facebook page. “His distinguished career in the military was followed by a successful second career as a driving member of numerous civilian community councils and advisory boards.”
After decades of service to his country and his community, Kanamine died of cancer on March 2 at his Florida home, his daughter, Linda Kanamine, said. He was 93 years old.
In the late 1940s, Kanamine earned his law degree from the University of Nebraska, but quickly realized he could not call himself a lawyer.
“The typical course would be to go be a lawyer in the military,” Rutizer said. “Well, he didn’t want to do that because he wanted to be with the troops. He wanted to be on the field and in the action.
Kanamine served in the Naval Reserves and eventually left Nebraska to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Military Police Corps. He was then stationed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, which marked the first of many moves with his family throughout his career.
Kanamine thrived in the military. He led the investigation into the My Lai massacre, where hundreds of Vietnamese were raped and massacred by American soldiers. He also researched the toxic chemical agent Orange while stationed at the Pentagon. In 1976, the army promoted him to brigadier general.
One of his career highlights was commanding the 716th Military Police Battalion to protect Saigon during the Vietnam War.
“What I remember from the Vietnam War, especially when I was posted to a big city, was that during the day it was happy and busy. … At night it was quiet, dark and scary,” Kanamine recalls in a family book given to him on his 80th birthday.
Even in love, Kanamine took its own course in a time when prejudice permeated everyday life. He met his future wife, Mary Stuben, while working the pool at the Omaha Field Club during summer vacation. The couple – one Japanese, the other German – dated in secret. They married in 1954 in Iowa because Nebraska law prohibited interracial marriage.
Stuben’s parents “were not in favor of interracial,” Kanamine recalled. “We had to sneak in from time to time” with the help of their friends.
In 1981, Kanamine retired from active duty. He received the Distinguished Service Medal as a retirement award. Years later, the Military Police Corps inducted him into the Hall of Fame.
Despite all the accolades, Kanamine remained grounded and dismissed the praise.
“My awards and citations were for various tasks associated with my many missions,” he wrote on Discover Nikkei, a website documenting the history of Japanese ancestry. “I simply did what was necessary in the best possible way.”
Even in retirement, Kanamine continued to serve his community. He volunteered at Holy Family Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he led the men’s club and other groups.
He also made time to swim almost every day. Kanamine first fell in love with the sport during his formative years, when he captained his high school team and later joined the varsity team in college.
Kanamine continued his travels around the world and once landed 12 straight tenpin bowling strikes – the perfect game. He also threw the first pitch in a Colorado Rockies game in 2005.
Despite life’s challenges, Kanamine found solace in her family and friends.
“Life isn’t always ‘peaches and cream,'” he wrote on Discover Nikkei. “Home and country must be protected. Have the personal discipline to know what is right and develop the skills to get the job done in the best possible way.
Kanamine is survived by his wife, their five children, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.