By John Sammon
Sandra Vea’s newly released book “Rising Son,” recounting the World War II experiences of Masao Abe, will show the contributions of the little known Military Intelligence Service (MIS).
It will also dispel the false notion the unit was only involved in the peaceful interrogating of Japanese prisoners in prisoner of war camps.
A decorated combat veteran, Abe had the terrifying assignment of attempting to talk Japanese soldiers out of their caves and strongpoints on Pacific Islands and convince them to lay down their arms.
The book is also a story of how during numerous interviews over a period of years the former soldier a Japanese American and the author Vea, a Caucasian woman, developed a special bond of friendship that only ended with Abe’s passing in August of 2013.
“He (Abe) became like a father to me,” Vea said.
Rising Son was released in February published by Sasquatch Books of Seattle. The book is available at Amazon.com and everywhere books are sold including major retailers like Barnes & Noble.
“It’s the story of an unknown piece of American history,” Vea said. “Masao (Abe) served in active combat interrogating prisoners on the front line. His job was to try and go in and get them to surrender.”
Unlike the better known 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed of Japanese American men many former prisoners in U.S. internment camps that became one of the most decorated units of the American military, the MIS remains a largely unknown organization. Starting out early in the war with just 26 Japanese American recruits, the unit would eventually grow to over 1,000 personnel and was tasked with gathering, analyzing and relaying intelligence on enemy intentions and strength.
The MIS became the American military’s eyes and ears in the Pacific War.
Abe was part of a 10-man combat team during the war and today there is only one surviving member, Hiro Takahashi, 103, a resident of San Mateo.
“For the book I spent about five years interviewing him (Abe),” Vea said. “He lived at the time in a retirement home at Mercer Island, that’s near Seattle. I would do recordings and take notes. I would conduct interviews in my car and sometimes at casinos in Las Vegas because Masao liked to gamble. Sometimes I would interview him in Hawaii where he would go on vacation.”
In 2007 Vea was dating Abe’s son Alan. That’s how she came to know his father Masao and his wife Doris. She said she became fascinated by the stories the couple told.
“I would see them a couple of times a week and they would tell me what their life was like during World War II,” Vea said. “I started to do research to help me understand better. I thought it was an important subject that people should know about.”
Before the war Masao Abe was a young man living with an aunt (Yukie Abe) and uncle who ran a grocery store, Star Cash Grocery in San Bernardino, California.
After Pearl Harbor the U.S. Government decided all Japanese Americans were potentially disloyal including the elderly and children and imprisoned 120,000 of them in barbed-wire-enclosed concentration camps located mostly in remote desert areas of the southwest.
Abe’s family members were sent to the Poston War Relocation Center in Southwest Arizona.
The uncle, Tatsuo Abe, was arrested by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and sent to several (DOJ) prisons finally ending up in a jail in New Mexico.
Masao Abe was born in San Bernardino but as a boy went to Japan to stay with his paternal grandparents to be educated. When World War II approached his father Yaso Shichi Abe and mother Tomie sent him home to the U.S. fearful he would be drafted into the Japanese Army.
Abe was to be one of the few Japanese Americans drafted by the U.S. Army before the beginning of World War II.
“He was in boot camp training to be a medic when the war started,” Vea said. “Once the war was on the government didn’t know what to do with him (Abe). He was recruited into the MIS because he could speak Japanese fluently. He wanted to be a soldier and there were other Japanese Americans in the unit.”
As the tide of the war turned American forces began a campaign of “island hopping” conquering islands in the South Pacific bypassing and isolating others as they fought their way closer to Japan. Masao Abe was given the hair-raising job of attempting to talk sometimes fanatical Japanese soldiers out of caves on islands including the Palau chain of islands in Micronesia southeast of the Philippines.
One of the major battles took place on Angaur Island.
“In this kind of work you could be shot by Japanese or American snipers,” Vea said. “There was so much hatred in the war one time a friend of Masao (Saburo Nakamura) talked a Japanese officer out of a cave to surrender and an American lieutenant shot him point blank. This was murder.”
Each of the 10-man Japanese American squad Abe served in had a non-Japanese American (Caucasian and Mexican) bodyguard attempting to protect them from friendly fire (American).
Abe was shot in the thigh for which he would receive the Purple Heart medal. He also won three Bronze Stars for his courage in addition to an Amphibious Arrowhead for taking part in a beach landing under hostile enemy fire.
“I think he was most proud of his Combat Infantry Badge because this showed he had been in combat,” Vea said.
After the war and marriage to his wife Doris Abe would work as an aircraft mechanic for Pan American and Boeing Air Lines living in Seattle, Guam and Hawaii.
Vea was also born in Seattle.
“I grew up there and went to the University of Washington,” she said. “I got a communications degree and then a graduate degree from Western Washington University in education, also a graduate degree in counseling. Today I’m a school counselor at Mariner High School (Everett, Washington).”
Rising Son is her first authored book.
“For 30 years after the war members of the MIS were forbidden to talk about it,” Vea said. “But when I met him and started gathering information for the book, Masao could talk and he was a chatter-box. He loved to talk about the war. I was asking him questions he was never asked before.”
After the passing of Abe’s wife Doris in 2010 the two spent more time together discussing the war.
“The hardest part of doing the book was taking all the notes and putting them together into a proper sequence so it read well,” Vea said.
Abe showed Vea 30 family photos of his wartime service previously unknown and unpublished that went into the book.
“Some of my friends have read the book and oddly enough it appeals also to women because of the relationship I had with Masao,” Vea said. “Here I was a white woman with little knowledge of World War II and a Japanese American veteran of the war spending a lot of time together. We got to be very close like family. Masao was a humble, kind man. He rolled with life and took its adversities. He was a living, breathing history book.
He was also a hero,” she added.
Masao Abe is survived by three grown sons Pat, Mike and Alan. They live in the Seattle area.
Vea said book signing events are being planned.
She is currently writing a new book about the history of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Vea said Rising Son will offer insight on the MIS during the war shedding light on what has been a largely ignored part of history.
“It will correct the idea they (MIS) were not in combat,” she said.
For more information go to Amazon.com at www.amazon.com/Rising-Son-Soldiers-Secret-Heroic-ebook/dp/B07CWFH42J