ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The old Lincoln Middle School building, which will soon be known as ‘Abilene Heritage Square‘ first broke ground more than two years ago. During recent renovations, regular vandalism and items from past students were expected to be found. What was a surprise was a name written in the cement on the roof.
Frank “Foo” Fujita was an Abilene High School Student, graduating in 1938. Some 84 years later, his life, story and accomplishments continue to influence and inspire many. Local historian, Jay Moore and friend to the Fujita family, Charles Foster, are just two among those who know Fujita as an ‘Abilene hero.’
In March 1942, Fujita and his fellow soldiers were captured by the Japanese in the south Pacific while he was serving as a Sergeant in the National Guard during World War II. Moore told KTAB/KRBC that before Fujita served, he was just your typical student.
“His first passion, really, was art,” Moore said.
Fujita joined the Texas National Guard shortly after graduation. Four years later, he was forced to work for Japan as a Prisoner of War (POW).
“They treated him terrible,” Moore said. “They forced him to labor 18 hours a day sometimes.”
Foster said the reason Fujita was treated so badly was because, “It was unthinkable, to them, that someone with a Japanese bloodline would take arms against Japan.”
At the time, very few to none knew where this group of soldiers went. Friends and family were worried about him, including Foster’s family.
Come September 1945, Fujita was finally liberated by American soldiers. He spent three-and-a-half years as a POW.
“He was so excited to be liberated that he actually, fully clothed, jumped into Sugama Bay to swim out to the ship that was coming to liberate them and nearly drowned,” Moore explained.
When he got home, Foster said his family was relieved to see their friend again.
“He was just thrilled to be alive,” Foster said. “And oh, they were happy for him.”
Historians discovered that Fujita’s high school passion for art helped him during this time. He is said to have drawn and document what was happening around him.
“His drawings were of the surroundings and what was going on in the Prisoner of War camp,” explained Dennison Bruno, one of Fujita’s last living family members in Abilene.
After Fujita would draw these pictures, Bruno said he, “hid it in the walls of that building that he would be held a prisoner in,” to hide them from the Japanese.
Fujita brought back these drawings, and now, they are located at the Discovery Center on Butternut Street. Fujita was known as a hero for enduring the hardship that he went through because of his ethnicity.
“The fact that he survived the treatment from the Japanese is amazing,” Bruno said.
Fujita would later move on to serve in the Korean War (1950-1953) and finish out his career as an illustrator for the Air Force.
This Abilene hero passed away in 1996, but his story is still being told through the simple carving on the roof of the building where he attended high school.
“He is a genuine American hero,” Foster claimed.
Click here to learn more about the book telling Fujita’s story, “Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun: The Secret Prison Diary of Frank ‘Foo’ Fujita.”
A memorial with Fujita’s name on it is sitting in front of the old courthouse building, along with the names of the other lost battalion’s during World War II.