Japanese American Ancestry: The Historical Tale of Frank Shigemura

Have you ever experienced not knowing an interesting fact about your relative and finding out about it later on in your life? This was the case for Janelle Kono and her long-lost relative “Masao” as she learned more about her Japanese American ancestry eventually after hearing references to him occasionally when she was young back then.

Frank “Masao” Shigemura is the full name of Kono’s second cousin. He fought in World War II being part of the 442nd Regimental Combat and his death brought inspiration to many people in America.

Growing up in Seattle, Masao was born to parents Takejuro Shigemura and Kay Kono Shigemura on December 1, 1922. He took up Economics and Business Administration at University of Washington. Masao’s education was interrupted in 1942 when his family moved to a major concentration camp located in Idaho when former US President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Executive Order which led to the internment of Japanese Americans.

Frank Shigemura's Parents

Photo Courtesy of Densho 

The formation of the National Japanese American Relocation Council was built upon the hope of getting the young adults back into college and finishing their degree. The said council brought Masao to Carleton College in Minnesota wherein he resided in dormitories and even joined the swim team.

Masao’s internment because of his ethnic heritage was not a hindrance in being patriotic as he joined the Army in the Enlisted Reserve in his college. He attended officer training alongside other members of the Carleton Reserve Corps. Among all of them, Masao was the only one who got rejected in being able to serve the Army. This resulted in the Dean of Carleton (Lindsey Blayney) writing numerous letters to the Army calling on them to let Masao serve. Blayney also mentioned how Masao’s patriotism is commendable since he pushed on despite the disadvantages in joining the Army because of his Japanese ancestry.

Eventually, Masao was able to actively report for duty in June 1943 with the help of Blindsey. He became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team composed of American-born Japanese men. The team was sent to a battle called “The Lost Battalion” to rescue a unit from the Texas National Guard. They were the third battalion attempting the rescue. The team was able to free the unit but had a lot more casualties than the rescued. One of the casualties was Masao who died along with 215 others.

His death caused an extraordinary friendship between his parents and Carleton college. This happened eventually when Blayney sent a letter of condolences to the Shigemuras who in turn replied with monetary donations for the college. The said money led to the scholarship in Masao’s name which is given each year to an incoming student in Carleton college.

Courtesy of Carleton College Library via Fred Hagstrom

A booklet and a student union was created in Carleton to honor Masao and other students who died fighting in the war. Similar to Carleton, the University of Washington also created a scholarship under Masao’s name. In 1950, Masao’s story was featured in Reader’s Digest. In the present time, Fred Hagstrom, who is a professor at Carleton college, hand-produced art books and gave talks relating to Masao’s story.

Fred Hagstrom

Photo Courtesy of Nisei Veterans Committee

Frank “Masao” Shigemura had a life that is an inspiration to many, especially Asian Americans. He continued on serving America despite his Japanese ancestry and died valiantly in the war. Masao’s story will continue inspiring more people, especially Asian-Americans like himself.


Janelle Kono of AsAmNews

Written by Jan Marbella

Jan Marbella is a Digital Marketing Intern of PS Media Enterprise and a 4th year Bachelor of Arts in Communication student of De La Salle University DasmariƱas.


A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
based in California that advocates
social inclusion of minorities with
Asian heritage though cultural awareness.


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Japanese American Ancestry: The Historical Tale of Frank Shigemura
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