An MI Legacy
He was forcibly
evacuated to an internment camp, then joined the U.S.
Army as an interrogator, interpreter and translator to
prove his loyalty
By Jeanette D. Lau
March 29, 1997, Ben T. Obata, retired Army intelligence
officer and federal civil service employee, passed away
at Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., of cardiac
arrest. He was 79 years old. A Vacaville, Calif. native,
Obata had lived in the Washington, D.C. area 25 years and
was a resident of Springfield, Va.
Obata leaves behind a
legacy of service to country beginning in the early days
of World War II. Working in Sacramento, Calif., in
December 1941, he was forcibly evacuated with other
Americans of Japanese descent to an internment camp in
Gila River, Ariz.one of many such camps created to
contain Japanese Americans during the war. He quickly
volunteered for the U.S. Army, responding to the urgent
need for people with Japanese language skills.
"He believed that it
(volunteering for the U.S. Army) was his contribution to
prove that they (Japanese Americans) were loyal,"
said Joanne Obata, Bens wife of 50 years.
Following training at Fort
Snelling, Minn., 2nd Lt. Obata was sent to the Pacific.
Serving in Australia and the Philippines, he interrogated
Japanese prisoners of war and worked undercover.
Immediately following the war, he served with the U.S.
Forces in Occupied Japan. While there, he searched for
his relatives now separated from their American family by
history. He found them, starving, and helped them rebuild
Remaining in the Army after
the war, he was attached to the Signal Corps as an
interpreter/translator for about 10 months. He
transferred to the Counter Intelligence Corps, with
headquarters located at Fort Holabird, Md. Assignments
with the Counter Intelligence Corps included Okinawa,
Tokyo and stateside locations.
Retiring from the military
in 1963 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, Obata accepted
a civilian position with the U.S. Army, continuing the
same type of work. His responsibilities took him to
Europe and back to Japan. He retired from the Military
Intelligence Civilian Excepted Career Program in 1983,
completing more than 40 years of service.
"He loved his work,"
Joanne Obata said of her husband. "He made a point
of going to all the Counter Intelligence Corps
reunionswhether his health was good or not. There
were 13 reunions; he went to all but one."
Obata remained very active
during retirement, focusing his energies on delivering
meals to shut-ins, teaching young people at vacation
bible school and supporting the Japanese American
Friends are quick to
remember his bright smile and caring nature. "Ben
loved people," said Joanne Obata. "He had a
real sensitivity to peopleespecially
He is survived by his wife,
son, daughter and two sisters. Grave-side services were
conducted at Arlington National Cemetery.
D. Lau is the chief of public affairs, U.S. Army
Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.