SGT. AKIRA TOKI
Akira Richard Toki was born January 17, 1916, the son of Henry and Sueno Toki. The Tokis were the first Japanese family in the Madison area. Hachihei “Henry” Toki was born in Japan and immigrated to the United States in 1903. He was recruited to Madison around 1908 to help with the development of the new United States Sugar Company factory off of Atwood Avenue. Later Henry operated a vegetable truck farm in Blooming Grove, just south of Highway 12 & 18 near the John Nolen Drive interchange. Akira Toki grew up on this farm and graduated from West High School in 1935. After graduating, he helped his father run the truck farming business.
Toki received a draft notice before the United States entered the war, but he was granted a deferment so he could continue working on the family farm. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. Toki decided to join the army to prove his loyalty to America. In fact, the Toki family actually identified more as American than Japanese. They had adopted America as their home. English was the primary language spoken in the household and all the Toki children were given western middle names.
He entered military service in February 1942 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. During their residence in the Madison area, the Toki Family did not experience any discrimination, but Akira Toki was subjected to segregation and prejudice during the first part of his military service. After completing basic training at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, he was sent to Camp Blanding, Illinois and assigned to do clerical work for a year and a half. Japanese-Americans were deemed unfit for combat duty and people didn’t trust them. One time while on leave, Toki and a few other Japanese-Americans were arrested by police and held until someone from the military base vouched for them.
Finally, Toki was given a break. He was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida for advanced infantry training and became a squad leader. Later Toki joined the newly-formed 442nd infantry regiment. This was a unit composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans. After training in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the 442nd infantry regiment was sent into to Italy in May 1944. Toki served as a squad leader during fierce combat in Italy and France and rose to the rank of sergeant. He also participated in a well-known rescue of a “the lost-battalion” trapped by Germans in France and was wounded in April 1945 in the Italy during Operation Grapeshot. Toki was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his actions. He was honorably discharged at Fort Sheridan, Illinois in late 1945.
After returning to civilian life, Toki continued running his family farm until he retired in the early 1980s. During the post-war years, Akira Toki became known not for his military service, but for his community volunteer work, especially at the Madison Veterans Hospital. In 1993, Orchard Ridge Middle School on Madison’s southwest side was renamed Akira Toki Middle School in his honor. In 2004, a book was written about him, titled The American Japanese: Akira Toki, An American Patriot by Arthur C. Rathburn. Sgt. Toki passed away in 2012 in South Milwaukee at age 96.