Ralph Ishii hadn’t even finished basic training when Japan surrendered in 1945. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on Feb. 13, 1945, and instead of fighting, he received a mission to serve in post-war rehabilitation.
Ishii, who was bilingual and trained at the Military Intelligence Service Language School, was sent to Japan in 1946. He was focused on the mission but found love in the process.
He was inspecting Japanese schools and transitioning them to a westernized system.
She was a Japanese grade-school teacher hired for the inspection team because she spoke the slightest English.
They were married about one year later.
“He was quite bashful, very humble. So maybe he would say, ‘I just did what I had to do,’ ” said Sue Ishii, the Japanese bride.
Ralph Ishii, a World War II veteran and resident of Augusta for about 45 years, received the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously at a recent ceremony in the nation’s capital. Ishii died in 2007.
“My only wish is that he received it himself,” she said.
The Congressional Gold Medal is considered, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.
Past recipients include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and the Tuskegee Airmen.
The award was bestowed collectively on the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. These units were almost entirely composed of people of Japanese ancestry.
The ceremony held at Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 2 was an emotional sight for Ishii, who married a strong, smart young soldier.
The awards honored many aging, frail and wheelchair-bound veterans.
“Once upon a time,
they were so brave in their fight for their country,” Ishii said.
In her Augusta living room, the draft photo of her “still innocent” husband-soldier and the American flag from his casket stand next to the medal she received on his behalf.
They lived together in Japan for about 10 years after marrying.
After Ishii served in the Korean War, he was stationed at Fort Gordon for Signal Corps training.
He retired from the Army in 1968 then worked for more than 20 years at the main post office in downtown Augusta.
The couple’s youngest daughter, Stephanie Davis, of Atlanta, didn’t hear her father share many memories of his military time.
A year before his death, she asked him to write down some notes and she has been able to piece together his story.
“You just get this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the veterans of that generation. Each had their own story,” Davis said. “Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation. I really believe that’s true.”