FACEism: Honoring a young Japanese American soldier whose life offers unique perspective on history

To understand how important this man is, we journeyed to Italy for this story we call "Love Stanley."

David Ono Image
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Young Japanese American soldier's life offers unique view on history
In this episode of ABC7's FACEism's series, we focus on one soldier in particular who is teaching the world about an entire generation of remarkable Americans.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- During World War II, a segregated unit of Japanese Americans in the U.S. Army became known as some of the greatest fighters in American history.

In this episode of ABC7's FACEism series, we focus on one soldier in particular who is teaching the world about an entire generation of remarkable Americans.

To understand how important this man is, we journeyed to Italy for this story we call "Love Stanley."

Deep in the mountains of Tuscany, there's a picturesque hamlet that has been there since the middle ages called San Terenzo Monti. Right in the center of the town in what used to be an old church, sits a museum that, unexpectedly, pours gratitude onto the Japanese American soldier, but why?

The answer lies 6,000 miles away in downtown Los Angeles. It's a diary and one of the most valued possessions at the Japanese American National Museum.

That's how it all began.

The entries were written by a then-16-year-old Stanley Hayami from San Gabriel. Stanley and his family had been forced out of their home and incarcerated at Heart Mountain Internment camp.

His young, but deep thoughts and beautiful sketches are still alive on those yellowed pages.

"I resolve to be so understanding of others and more appreciative," read Judy Hayami, Stanley's niece, as she recited some of the entries written by her uncle. "His resolution number one was, 'I resolve to be more tolerant.'"

After graduating from Heart Mountain High School, Stanley enlisted in the Army and became a part of the 442nd, a segregated unit of Japanese American soldiers, many, like Stanley, fighting for the very country that unjustly locked them up.

Stanley's letters he would send home were funny, filled with sketches and optimism and were always signed "Love Stanley."

He was one of those Japanese American soldiers that liberated San Terenzo.

Just outside the museum, we met 88-year-old Luisa Chinca. She remembers when the Nisei soldiers came through there.

Inside the museum, however, she's a different person. You don't have to speak Italian to feel the depths of her pain. She points to the photos on the wall, where you see villagers she knew as a child.

On a late summer afternoon in 1944, the Germans, occupying the town rounded them up and executed them. That was 184 people, mainly women and children. Six of them were Luisa's family members, including her mother.

"It's very difficult," said Luisa with the help of an interpreter. "After a lot of years, it's very difficult to accept this."

It was soon after that massacre the Nisei fought their way into town and crushed the Germans. Now, we understand their gratitude but liberation comes with a price.

It's there that this talented, funny, sensitive teenager crawled out into the open to help two wounded comrades and was cut down by a sniper's bullet.

At Heart Mountain, the news of the end of the war in Europe came before word of Stanley's death. Stanley's parents were at a party, celebrating the belief that their son made it through when the telegram arrived.

It was just three lines: "Your son Pvt. Hayami Stanley K was killed in action in Italy 23 April, 45."

Stanley was forced to leave L.A. and never returned until his funeral years later.

The procession traveled down first street in Little Tokyo, right by where his diary sits today. He was laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery next to many other Nisei heroes.

Through the years, Stanley has become such an important figure, we wanted to learn more about his final moments.

So we enlisted the help of Italian historians who live in the area.

They studied the records, read eyewitness accounts and even found the list of Nisei that died in the fighting, handwritten from the battlefield.

At number 92: Stanley Hayami.

They discovered Stanley died right in front of the old church. The deadly shot came from a nearby white building. But there's more.

A small castle built in the 1300s, just 200 feet from where Stanley died, houses a beautiful courtyard and a cellar.

Among centuries old wine barrels, there's Stanley's helmet - it's been sitting in the cellar for 77 years.

The helmet was taken off of Stanley as medics tried to save his life. The owner of the castle watched the scene play out. The helmet was left behind, so he picked it up and stored it, never realizing who that brave soldier was.

It was only now, after we came calling, did the clues link together. Eight decades later, Stanley's tragic, poetic, incredible story lives on.

Whether it's a helmet from a tragic moment or the pages of this diary, Stanley teaches us about what we lost in that war.

Those writings aren't those of a teenager, they are the writings of a generation, and that's why this one man means so much to so many.