“Rising Son” chronicles personal story of a Japanese American WWII soldier

Masao Abe, in the front row on the far left, served as a U.S. Army soldier in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. (Photo courtesy Abe family via Sasquatch Books.)

Masao Abe, a second-generation Japanese American soldier, had a highly specialized assignment during World War II.

Abe was one of the Japanese American soldiers recruited into the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. His job — to convince soldiers from Japan to lay down their arms and to translate captured documents.

But for three decades, Abe couldn’t talk about his contributions to the U.S. war effort. Now, Abe’s story is being told in “Rising Son,” a book by Sandra Vea.

“It’s a story about how he became valuable in the military,” Vea said.

Vea has been a public educator for 26 years, and Abe was her partner’s father. Abe died in 2013 at age 96, several years after Vea and Abe together started working on a book about his life.

Abe was born in California. As a child, he lived for several years in Japan. He returned to the United States in 1941, and then was drafted by the military several months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

About 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the military in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. On a fraction — about 6,000 — of those soldiers were recruited for the Military Intelligence Service, according to Densho, an organization that records and indexes Japanese American history.

Their service came at a time when Japanese Americans on the West Coast were being incarcerated in concentration camps and demonized by the U.S. government. The men in the Military Intelligence Service often had to travel with bodyguards, because some of their fellow soldiers would be suspicious of them, according to Densho.

This information was kept secret for 30 years. Those who served in that Military Intelligence Service were forbidden to talk about it for three decades, which is why information about it is just now starting to go public, Vea says.

Vea’s partner, who was very close with his parents, introduced her to his father in 2007. As Vea learned more about Abe’s life, her interest in his story grew, and they developed a trust in each other.

Vea spent a lot of time interviewing Abe, asking him questions, and listening to his story. The Seattle Times did a feature on Abe after he died.

Vea continued her work on the book.

“After he passed away, I really missed him,” Vea said. “It was part of my grieving process … it was my way to honor him.”

Vea thinks Abe would have failed to understand all the excitement if he were still around to see “Rising Son” get published.

“He was very humble about his service,” Vea said. “He just thought he was doing his job.”

“Rising Son” also covers themes that are still politically relevant. Immigration and citizenship were huge issues in World War II and remain relevant today.

Vea said many members of Abe’s generation stood up for Muslim-Americans after the 9/11 attacks, because of the way that Japanese American men, women and children had been incarcerated by the United States in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

“I think we’re losing our sense of why history is so important,” Vea said.

Vea will read from “Rising Son” at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9 at Kinokuniya Books, 525 South Weller St., Seattle.

Masao Abe with his Congressional Gold Medal in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy Abe family via Sasquatch Books).