REMARKABLE FAMILY - A reunion of the Itano family after World War II years. In front are (left to right) Sumako, Dean and Masao. In back are Edith, Masashi and Harvey, the award winner.
(Editor's note - The following article on the Masao Itano family of Sacramento and eldest son, Dr. Harvey A. Itano, now a member of the National Academy of Science appeared in the June 25 issue of the Sacramento Union, written by K. W. Lee, staff writer.)
Behind every achievement of the nisei - the American-born, second-generation of Japanese immigrants - stands the silent, stoic figures of their parents - the issei- who are rapidly vanishing from the scene.
Meet Harvey A. Itano, a Sacramento native renown for his pioneering work with sickle cell anemia, who has just become the first Japanese American to be named to the National Academy of Sciences.
At the root of his honor is the legacy of his parents, Masao, 90, and Sumako, 79, who now live in retirement at 963 Robertson Way.
Through their grim wartime internment years and their resettlement years, the elder Itanos have produced two generations of scientists and professionals, all successful in their respective pursuit.
Dr. Harvey happens to be the oldest of their four grown children.
A man of few words, the nonagenarian almost whispered to a visitor who had pressed for some comment on the occasion:
"I'm very proud about it, and I hope he will continue his research work."
What were his influences over the offspring?
"I don't think I did anything. They were born that way. They wanted to study themselves."
Benkyo, benkyo and benkyo (study, study and more study). These were the words many nisei remember of their Sacramento childhood.
"But my father never lectured to us," recalls Dr. Harvey Itano, professor of pathology, in a telephone interview from his U.C.-San Diego school of medicine office. "He showed us by example - his own life itself.
At age 17, Masao Itano - the oldest of six children of a struggling family in rural Japan - came to San Francisco alone to "study and study." "My parents had six children, and it was a big job for them to raise and educate them. I wanted to lessen their burden."
Reverence for education was a deep-seated national characteristic in old Japan. Teachers were held in high esteem. The teen-aged Masao brought it with him to America.
For three years he lived as a houseboy in San Francisco, learning English and attending high school. He then worked his way through U.C.-Berkeley, graduating in 1917 with a degree in agriculture.
After graduation, he returned home to marry a village girl who was "almost 18." Together they settled in Sacramento to start farming 300 leased acres on what is now Freeport Blvd.
Hard times ruined his three-year venture. Undaunted, the immigrant served as a translator for the fledgling Japanese colony while building up an insurance business.
But when his insurance business began to grow, Pearl Harbor and the subsequent panic uprooted the Itano family.
Shortly, the father - who couldn't become a citizen because of the anti-Japanese exclusion law - was sent to a remote North Dakota camp for enemy aliens.
Harvey, then an all-A chemistry major at U.C.-Berkeley, came home to help out the remaining family, his mother recalls.
"His father wrote me to tell Harvey, 'Don't give up your education just because of me.' That was his only wish, and Harvey went back to school."
In a choking voice, the mother added, "I never forget that letter from his father - never, never give up education."
In 1942 Harvey Itano scored the highest scholastic record of his graduating class at Berkeley but was unable to attend graduation ceremony because he and his family (minus the already interned father) were confined in the Sacramento (Walerg relocation center.
The Itanos, along with other Sacramentans of Japanese ancestry, were sent to the desolate Tule Lake camp. Nomadic camp life in Arkansas and Colorado followed.
The Itano children didn't give up on education. From camp, Harvey kept applying to medical schools throughout the country. Luckily, one medical school - St. Louis University - accepted his application.
His younger brother, Dean, followed him to St. Louis to enroll at Washington University. Dean's younger sister, Edith, (now Mrs. Frank Tanaka of San Francisco) finished high school behind barbed wire. So did the youngest brother, Masashi. Both Edith and Masashi then attended the University of Wisconsin.
Dean became a banker-lawyer, Edith a dietician, and Masashi a pathologist. Dean is president of Sacramento's Guild Savings and Loan Assn.
The Itano parents worked in war factories in Chicago after they were released from their camp. With savings, they bought a car and drove to Sacramento to start all over again.
At age 57, the elder Itano was on the road again - to reestablish his lost insurance business. He kept working until he was 77 to help finance the higher education of his children.
In 1945, Harvey received his MD from St. Louis University, but his main goal was research work. The next year he arrived at the California Institute of Technology for a Ph.D. under an American Chemical Society scholarship.
And that's where his research on sickle cell anemia, a hereditary anemia afflicting mostly black people, started.
He was co-discoverer, with Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Jonathan Singer, of the inherited abnormal hemoglobin S, which causes sickle cell anemia, and also the co-discoverer of hemoglobin C and E and the discoverer of hemoglobin D.
For his discoveries, Dr. Itano has received the Martin Luther King, Jr., medical achievement award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Eli Lillv Award front the American Chemical Society and the special award for distinguished achievement from the Japanese American Citizens League.
More recently, Itano is studying the mechanism of chemically induced Heinz body hemolytic anemia.
Of his achievement, the trade magazine Chemical and Engineering News has written:
"Significance of Dr. Itano's work on hemoglobin can hardly be overestimated. For the first time, medical science has a precise, molecular interpretation of a disease, and this may be the start of understanding physical, and chemical processes basic to diseases.
If projected to other diseases, it is readily seen how the course of medicine could be changed."
The Itano tradition lives on.
The family's sansei - the third generation - already lists a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University, two fishery biologists and an electrical engineer doing her graduate work at MIT.
The grandfather sums up:
"I am glad I came to this country and that I was able to raise my children and help educate them. I am very thankful to America."
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