Shigenori Nagao, WWII soldier and Selma farmer, dies

The Fresno BeeApril 24, 2014 

Shigenori Nagao

Selma farmer Shigenori Nagao never doubted his love for the San Joaquin Valley or the United States -- even in times of adversity when his loyalties were questioned during World War II.

"He would do anything for his country and his family," said Sophia Reyna-Nagao, Mr. Nagao's daughter-in-law.

Mr. Nagao died April 13 at his Selma home at the age of 95.

Joining the Army in April 1941, Mr. Nagao was a Japanese-American citizen who enlisted prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Following that attack, he had his weapons taken away from him and was instead given a makeshift gun made from wood.

Yet this wouldn't break Mr. Nagao's loyalty. He would go on to serve until August 1945, taking part in campaigns in Africa and Europe, suffering two injuries and earning multiple medals of honor, including two Purple Hearts and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was a sergeant and machine gun squad leader of the 442nd Regiment Combat Team and 100th Battalion Company A, a unit comprised of Japanese-American soldiers.

However, as Mr. Nagao fought for his country, his parents, Shigekichi and Yusa, and brother, Minoru, were moved to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona.

But despite this, Mr. Nagao "never held it against the country, the state or the county," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League that awarded Mr. Nagao Agriculturist of the Year in 2011.

Cunha remembered Mr. Nagao, also known as "Shig", as "one of the all-time greats."

"Shig was always there, working with your neighbors and working with your family," Cunha said.

Farming was ingrained in Mr. Nagao's life from growing up in Selma. Yet when Depression hit, "hardship" on his parents' farm caused Mr. Nagao to join the Army in an attempt to earn income and save the farm, said son Brent Nagao.

"He was a quiet, private man, but very loving and caring," Reyna-Nagao said. "He'd do anything for his family."

After being discharged in November 1945, Mr. Nagao returned to Selma and continued farming the land of his parents. Known as Nagao Farms, it is now in its fourth generation, growing peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes for raisins.

"A passion for him was farming," Reyna-Nagao said. "He loved agriculture and the Valley and he worked hard for that."

Mr. Nagao farmed into his 90s before suffering a stroke three years ago. Cunha remarked he was astonished by "the total commitment he showed at that age" to farming.

"I still think he was young at age 87," Cunha said. "His heart, his soul, his family were in agriculture."

After his stroke, Mr. Nagao was bedridden until his passing, unable to talk but still communicating with his family through gestures.

Shigenori Nagao

Born: Nov. 29, 1918

Died: April 13, 2014

Career: Retired Selma farmer

Survivors: Wife Kimiyo Nagao; son Brent Nagao and his wife Sophia Reyna-Nagao; daughter Sherri Elliston and her husband Irby; four grandchildren -- Kristi Nagao, Evan Nagao, Dana Elliston and Crystal Garcia and her husband Vincent; and two great-granddaughters, Olivia and Priscilla

Services: Celebration of his life, with military honors, will start at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Parlier Buddhist Temple in Parlier

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6330 or npearl@fresnobee.com.

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