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Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son

I never met Stanley Hayami, but I spent over four years getting to know him. I found pieces of his story on the website of the Japanese American National Museum while I was researching Dear Miss Breed.


Stanley Hayami was a 16-year-old boy who began keeping a diary in November 1942, when he was a prisoner of his own country. He was an American citizen of Japanese ancestry who found his life turned upside down when war began between the United States and Japan in December of 1941. In a few short months, Stanley and more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were taken away from their homes, schools, friends and the lives they had known.


Stanley and his brothers and sister were born in America. They had gone to American schools, eaten American food, spoke American slang, they considered themselves to be 100% American. In fact, two-thirds of those taken away were American citizens by birth!


They had no lawyers, no trials, no chance to defend their civil liberties. For the next three and a half years, they were held in American concentration camps solely on the basis of wartime hysteria and long standing racist hatred.

1944  Tempo

One of the treasures of my research is the Heart Mountain 1944 Yearbook, Tempo.

Stanley writes about his work as art director of the yearbook, which includes many

drawings by Stan and other students. Yearbooks written today are delivered in late

spring and autographed by friends and faculty before graduation. Perhaps because

of the war and paper shortages, for whatever reason, the 1944 Tempo was not printed,

even when Stan visited Heart Mountain on furlough in December of 1944, just before

he was shipped overseas.


On May 1st of 1945, his kid brother Walt writes to Stan:

“The 1944 Tempo finally came. If you want it over there tell me so I can send it.

I’m trying to have all your friends sign it, but most of them are gone.”


His family did not know it yet, but so was Stanley.


Nineteen-ear old Stanley Hayami died in the last offensive battle fought by the 442nd

and died of April 23rd, just days  before all fighting in Europe ended. In fact, the Hayami

family celebrated V-E day in Heart Mountain on May 8th thinking that Stanley and his

brother Frank were both safe and would be coming home. 

The telegram arrived on May 9th.

Pearl Harbor  December 7th ...

Stanley's Drawing for the frontispiece of Tempo 1944

More than a Diary


Stanley’s diary is a tender document that not only chronicles a cruel chapter of our past, it is a cautionary tale that reminds us of what happens when fear and hatred override our laws; when civil liberties are treated as optional in the name of security. In many ways, a time much like the present. Stanley’s diary serves as witness to a dark time in our history, told through the eyes of a teenager who was soon expected to take up the responsibility of a man.


He was a talented student who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a writer/artist or a scientist who might travel to outer space or solve the mysteries of universe. His aspirations come through in the drawings and often witty cartoons he made in his diary and letters.  However, in 1944 when he turned 18, his career choices were gone. The same government that had taken away his rights as a citizen, drafted him and thousands of other Nisei sons, into the U.S. Army. He served with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei unit. He never lost his faith in America, and remained defiantly patriotic to the last. He was killed in combat in Northern Italy on April 23rd, 1945, while trying to help a fellow soldier. He was nineteen years old.


Years later, Stanley’s parents gave his diary to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) so that generations of researchers would have access to his story. His complete diary is in my book, Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son along with stories that his family and friends shared with me. Thanks to them, I was able to include photographs, letters, and drawings that tell so much more than the diary alone. Sadly, a cache of letters that his sister Sach, had saved were not found until after the book went to press. These letters tell a part of the family’s story that reveal what it was like for many college age Nisei who were able to leave the camps and their families to restart their lives as students and workers in mid-western and eastern cities. Their struggles are a largely untold story that came out of the incarceration. One day, perhaps I will do a second edition of the book. Thankfully, the family turned those letters over to JANM, where they are in safe keeping with the diary and other family papers.


Knowing how much Stanley hoped to become a writer and artist, I decided that his name belonged on the cover. I hope he would approve. 



One of the Rewards of Research:


While researching Stanley’s service in the 442nd, I interviewed a number of veterans who had served in Company E in Italy, hoping to find someone who might have known him. I had no such luck until I happened to read an account of the battle near San Terenzo, where Stanley died in April of 1945. It seemed improbable at first, but in fact, the story was told by the man who had led the 2nd Battalion, Company E—that was Stanley’s unit. It was one of those eureka moments…maybe too good to believe, because the writer of that account was none other than a 20-year-old Second Lieutenant named Daniel K. Inouye. in the last offensive battle fought by the 442nd. The battle went on for days. Inouye led the attack on a nest of machine gunners and lost his arm in the early stages of that offensive, Two days later, in the same battle, Stanley lost his life, just days before the war in Europe ended.



So many years later, when the book was complete, I sent the then senior Senator Inouye a picture of Stanley, wondering if he remembered Stan. The Senator wrote… “It was his warm smile that made him so instantly recognizable.” He not only recognized Stan, he kindly wrote the introduction to my book. This is part of the introduction:


“We were all so young and full of hope. Stanley did not live to make his youthful dreams come true. But his diary lives on as a reminder that what happened then must never happen again . . . and that we must defend our liberties (and those of others) at home as well as abroad.


Senator Daniel Inouye

Washington, D.C. 

Reviews of Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son


Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son is marketed as a biography for “all ages,” but this slender book, deftly annotated by Joanne Oppenheim with a stirring Foreword by Senator Daniel Inouye, is also “one for the ages.”  Without question…will quickly become a minor classic…this volume puts a noble human face on the Nikkei’s tragic wartime experience and bequeaths to posterity a befitting hero to embody the vexing promise of our democratic, multicultural nation.    

Arthur A. Hansen, Professor Emeritus, History & Asian American Studies, California State University, Fullerton


Author Joanne Oppenheim gets title page credit as annotator, but has done much more than the word implies, weaving a gripping tale that will hold the interest of the young adults at whom it is aimed and will be appreciated by general readers as well.  

Roger Daniels, author, Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. (2nd ed., 2004)


Oppenheim educates Americans through a journey of words, pictures and illustrations – a journey of our past as an American people.  This book belongs in the library of every American historian.

Susan Uyemura, MSG, CEO Japanese American Living Legacy, Nikkei Writers Guild


These are the kinds of stories that are not taught in history classes which is exactly why you need to pick up a copy. Joanne Oppenheim provides invaluable information and insight to Stanley's letters and diary entries that give the internment of Japanese Americans a powerfully personal point of view.

Secret Asian, Tak Toyoshima

Just ran into this old email which should have appeared with the early reviews:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son".  His writings and especially his drawings gave a powerful insight into his thoughts and character.  I knew from the cover that Hayami would be KIA, and yet I wept at the end when you told the reader of Hayami’s death. I agree with Roger[Daniels] that your contribution was much more than just annotating Hayami’s work.  You did an excellent job of providing historical context. Let me know if you ever want to do a book event in Seattle.  I would like Densho to support.

With deep respect,

Tom Ikeda, Executive Director, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project,

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