Tim Tokuno was born and raised on a farm in Palermo, California in the Sacramento Valley. He was one of seven children born to Japanese immigrants, who raised olive and walnut trees. He was drafted six months before Pearl Harbor and tried to go into the Marines, but was told that “no Orientals” were wanted there or in the Navy. Instead, he joined the Army and was still in training when Pearl Harbor happened. The men in his squad immediately rallied around him, promising to protect him if anyone tried to give him any trouble.
His parents were forced to evacuate their farm and made hurried arrangements with a friendly family nearby to look after it while they were gone. They were sent first to the Tule Lake internment camp, and then to Topaz, but Tokuno was unable to get a furlough to go see them.
For a while, the Army did not know what to do with Tokuno and the 500 other Nisei soldiers already in its ranks. They were sent to Camp Robinson, Arkansas for a time and assigned menial work there – collecting garbage, etc. Then they were transferred to Ft. Riley, Kansas where Tokuno drove a truck and then became a dispatcher for a motor pool. A colonel saw him once and said, “people like you should be in Leavenworth.” In l943, after President Roosevlet signed the order to form the 442nd Tokuno, along with most of the Nisei in his unit, volunteered.
After training with the 442nd at Camp Shelby, Alabama, Tokuno finally received a 15 day furlough to see his parents for the first time since he went into the service. His last night in camp, his mother prepared a Japanese dinner and as he was leaving, she said, “whatever you do, don’t ever disgrace your name or your country. I want you to come back. But don’t be a coward. Even if you have to die. Don’t bring dishonor to our family or our country.’’
Tokuno arrived in Italy with the 442nd in May, 1944 and was assigned to Company M, Heavy Weapons, 3rd Battalion, as a transport sergeant – he was in charge of 19 jeeps and a weapons carrier. During the course of the war in Europe, Tokuno served with the 442nd in Italy and France. He survived numerous artillery barrages, although several of his drivers were killed by shells and land mines. On one occasion, Tokuno’s second lieutenant became severely shell shocked when his sergeant was decapitated by shrapnel.
Tokuno was discharged from the Army in 1945 and quickly discovered that not much had changed in California for Japanese Americans. When he went into town at Marysville, he saw signs, “No Japs Allowed.” His parents had already left the internment camp but had not been able to go home because there were squatters living in the family home who refused to leave. Tokuno eventually managed to get them to vacate the premises, and resumed farming there. He married and raised a family of his own on the farm.