American Hero, American Artist

The Legacy of George Sakata

During World War II, George Sakata was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Like the rest of his fellow soldiers in the 442nd, Sakata was a second-generation American of Japanese descent, or Nisei. 

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans endured relentless discrimination, and Sakata himself was no stranger to racism. Before he enlisted, George had been forced to leave his home in Glendale, California and relocate to Manzanar, an internment camp located just outside of Death Valley. He was 20 years old. Furthermore, George continued to deal with racism after he joined the military. Because the 442nd was a segregated unit consisting entirely of Nisei soldiers, they were given especially dangerous assignments and they were treated as expendable soldiers. Their motto became “Go for Broke.” For its many acts of unprecedented bravery and sacrifice, the 442nd RCT became the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. history. 

In addition to being a courageous soldier, Sakata was a skilled photographer, and he took his camera with him when the 442nd was sent to Europe. He took snapshots around Italy, documenting daily life as he went front town to town. He also photographed his fellow Nisei, providing a rare and invaluable window into the world of a soldier.

HIP was fortunate enough to purchase the bulk of Sakata’s photographic negatives from his estate after his death in 2009. His photography covers not only his dangerous deployment overseas but also the joys of his home life after he returned to the States. While this initial installment primarily features the photographs that Sakata took while he was a soldier in Italy, we will be adding photographs from Sakata’s postwar life in the weeks and months to come. We’ll keep you posted when we make new additions.

In the meantime, we are excited to present this fresh round of photographs by the great George Sakata. We are honored to share his work with you, and we are proud of the 442nd, a group of true patriots who chose to serve their country in spite of so much racism and betrayal. We hope you’ll join us in saluting the courage, resilience, and artistry of this incredible soldier.

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