Monday, May 29, 2017

Exhibit: Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images @ Harvard Medical School Transit Gallery

Correction 5/31/17: Someone just pointed out to me that I had written the Saturday hours were on June 2nd. Saturday is actually June 3rd.

It is really unusual to have exhibits on the WWII Japanese American experience in the Boston area. The Transit Gallery at Harvard Medical School is currently exhibiting part of a very rare collection of photos from a Japanese American soldier who served in Europe in the segregated all Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. I checked with the New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and we believe this may be the first exhibit in the Boston area to focus on the 442nd. I'm not even sure if other photos like these exist.

Dr. Susumu Ito or Sus as he was known to those of us who knew him, took his 35mm Agfa Ansco to war against orders. In 2015 he told the Los Angeles Times, "I wanted to take [my camera] because we weren't allowed to. I like to break the rules."

Left & right: Japanese American soldiers in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion
Center: Ito's family in incarceration at Rohwer War Relocation Center

Sus was 21 when he was drafted in 1940, prior to US entry into WWII. He served in a non-segregated Quartermaster truck and vehicle maintenance unit at Camp Haan near Riverside, California. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sus was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma and restricted to civilian duty as a mechanic. In 1943 he was selected to join the 442nd and assigned to the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the artillery unit of the 442nd. While Sus was stationed at Fort Shelby in Mississippi, his family was being unjustly incarcerated at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas. He was able to visit them once before deploying to Europe and took photos of that visit. Cameras were initially banned inside War Relocation Authority incarceration camps and although restrictions were eventually lifted in the spring of 1943, few candid photos of camp life exist.

Photograph and note to Ito from Larry Lubetski, former Dachau Concentration Camp
prisoner. Lubetski was a Lithuanian Jew who was only a teenager when the
522nd Field Artillery Battalion helped to rescue him after the liberation of Dachau.

Sus and his camera went thousands of miles all over Europe. He documented everything he saw along the way – from Nazi soldiers and their prisoners (he helped to liberate Dachau) to the daily life of his fellow Japanese American soldiers between battles. Sus was a prolific photographer, taking thousands of photos, many of which he sent to his mom to let her know he was okay. The exhibit showcases just a fraction of the collection.

Silhouettes of six German soldiers retreating westward at dawn in Germany.
Spring 1945

After the war Sus continued his education with the help of the G. I. Bill and after receiving his PhD from Case Western Reserve University became a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell Medical School in the lab of Don W. Fawcett, Chair of the Department of Anatomy. When Dr. Fawcett was appointed Chair of the Department of Anatomy at Harvard Medical School in 1960, he brought Sus along with him as an associate professor. After retiring in 1990, Sus, as an Emeritus professor, remained active in the lab until 2014, happy to assist postdocs with electron microscopy, a field that he and Dr. Fawcett pioneered.

Ito on rest and recuperation, posing with his arm around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Summer 1945

The exhibit was first displayed at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California in the late summer of 2015. Sus passed away just a few weeks after the JANM exhibit closed. He was a beloved member of Boston's Japanese American community and of the Harvard Medical School community.

Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images

In 1994, the Japanese American National Museum received a donation of several dozen 35mm film canisters and their contents from World War II veteran Susumu "Sus" Ito. While serving in the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team's 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, Ito took thousands of photographs and carried them nearly five thousand miles across Italy, France, and Germany during his wartime service.

In part, Ito took these photos to send to his mother, who was incarcerated at the Rohwer War Relocation Center. The snapshots depict a previously unseen and close-up view of the Nisei soldiers and their everyday experiences. Through the lens of Ito's camera, these young men are just that–young men, away from home and family, serving their country in a time of war. While some of the images capture the soldiers' heroism, most of the photographs show the smaller, human moments of daily life.

Unseen for over seventy years, Sus Ito's thousands of photographs provide a rare window into one person's extraordinary experience of everyday life as a soldier during World War II.

Ito's collection captures the iconic moments often associated with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team–from the rescue of the Lost Battalion to the liberation of two Dachau subcamps.

But these intense moments of war are punctuated by long periods of boredom and waiting. From Ito reading a Superman comic to soldiers stomping on grapes to make wine, the photos notably depict the more routine activities of wartime life. Ito purposefully captured and sent these snapshots to his mother as a way [to] reassure her of his safety.

Today, the collection of photographs stands as a unique record of an important period in American history.

This exhibit was organized by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and is sponsored by the Harvard Medical School Office of Human Resources, the New England Japanese American Citizens League, Dr. James Adelstein, Atsuko Fish, and May & Tetsuo Takayanagi.

The original exhibit also contained artifacts and videos which due to space and equipment limitations are not included in the Transit Gallery's exhibit. Later this year the exhibit will travel to the Fullerton Arboretum in Fullerton, CA from September 11th to December 1st. If you are interested in booking the exhibit, please contact the Japanese American National Museum.

Open through Monday, June 26, 2017
Regular Hours: Monday-Friday, 9am - 5pm
Special hours: Saturday, June 3, 2017, 1pm - 5pm
Note: If you are not a member of the Harvard Medical School community, please contact Tania Rodriguez in advance to ensure access to Gordon Hall. 

Transit Gallery at Gordon Hall, Harvard Medical School
25 Shattuck St., Boston, MA 02115

Free and open to the public.

Directions & Parking
Getting to Gordon Hall is a bit of a challenge. Taking the Green Line is your best option. The closest T stop is Brigham Circle on the E Line. You can access Shattuck St. by walking through the courtyard behind the Countway Library of Medicine (the entrance to the courtyard is between the Countway Library and Harvard School of Public Health).

There is some 2 hour metered parking along Huntington Ave. but not a lot. Most of the nearby parking garages are attached to hospitals and I'm not sure if they are open to the public. The closest garage that I believe is open to the public is the Longwood Galleria Garage at 350 Longwood Ave. See rates here.

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