Joe Nagata

Winston Ho 何嶸.  
Independent Historian,
Researching Chinese American History in New Orleans 紐奧良華僑歷史研究.
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2019 Jun. 3, Tuesday (updated 2019 Jun. 12).

Nagata, Joe (c. 1944-1945) - 1 (Baton Rouge Advocate)

[Joe Nagata, U.S. Army, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, circa 1944-1945. Baton Rouge Advocate.]  

Sam Nagata was an immigrant from Japan who arrived in Chicago, Illinois, in 1905. In 1927, he moved to New Iberia, Louisiana, and started a produce trucking businesses, shipping fruits and vegetables grown in Cajun country down the highway to markets in New Orleans. In 1937, he was joined by his brother, Yoshiyuki “Josie” Nagata, who started the Eunice French Market, a produce store in Eunice, Louisiana. Yoshiyuki Nagata was married to a Caucasian woman of Irish ancestry from Ohio named Edith, and they raised two sons – George Nagata and Joe Nagata.

Joseph Yoshiyuki Nagata (1924 → 2001) was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and he moved to Eunice as a teenager with his parents.  Despite not playing sports before high school, Joe Nagata became a star football player for Eunice High School.  As a senior, he played in the Louisiana All-Star high school game in New Orleans in 1942.  He was later awarded a football scholarship to attend Louisiana State University.  Around the same time, the Pearl Harbor attack took place.

[(Left and bottom) Sam Nagata. War Relocation Authority, 1945. Online Archive of California.  (Right) Joe Nagata with parents Josie and Edith Nagata.  Circa 1942.  Eunice News (2013 Jul. 21).] 

Like many Japanese Americans at the time, Sam Nagata was arrested and detained by the FBI, his pickup truck was confiscated, and his brother’s produce store in Eunice was closed. While the Nagata family cooperated fully with the FBI investigation, the people of Eunice were furious.  The Nagata family had lived in the area for years and were well-liked by the entire town, and Joe Nagata was already a celebrated ball player at the local high school.  As far as Eunice was concerned, the Nagata’s were Americans, and the enraged Cajuns effectively ran the FBI out of town.

Nagata, Joe (1948) (LSU Gumbo).jpg

[Joe Nagata, no. 11, LSU Tigers, circa 1942-1944. LSU Gumbo Yearbook, 1948.  LSU Gumbo Yearbook, 1948.] 

At LSU, Joe Nagata majored in agriculture and played on the football team as a starting offensive back, usually at wingback. Beginning in his freshmen year, he played for two seasons under the legendary coach Bernie Moore, where he gained a reputation for his speed.  Nagata was a member of the 1944 team which played in the Orange Bowl, the first time LSU played in the Orange Bowl, which they won, defeating Texas A&M 19 to 14.  LSU had played Texas A&M in the regular season, losing 13-28, so victory in the Orange Bowl was payback.  

While Joe Nagata was considered a hero in Eunice and Baton Rouge, he was also a hero in the internment camps, where detained Japanese Americans followed his career in the newspapers [page 14, see the list of Japanese American internment camp publications below].

Nagata, Joe (c. 1944-1945) - 2 (Friends of Coach Nagata)[Joe Nagata, U.S. Army, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, circa 1944-1945. Friends of Coach Nagata.] 

After winning the Orange Bowl, Joe Nagata dropped out of LSU and enlisted in the U.S. Army.  He fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team – the all-Nissei unit – and he saw combat in the Po Valley campaign in Northern Italy.  He was awarded eight medals for valor, including the Bronze Star and the Infantry Combat Medal, and he was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant. After the war, Nagata returned to LSU and married one of the co-eds, a young Caucasian woman and fellow Eunice native named Jenora Brown.  They later raised three children together.

Nagata, Joe (c. 1960s) - (Friends of Coach Nagata)

[Coaches Curtis Joubert, Dave Greer, Joe Nagata, Leroy Taylor, and James Fontenot.  Eunice H.S., circa 1960s-1974.  Friends of Coach Nagata.]   

After finally completing a degree in agriculture in 1951, Joe and Jen Nagata returned to Eunice, where Joe Nagata became a teacher and football coach for two high schools:  Eunice High School and St. Edmund High School.  From 1951 until 1960, he served as an assistant coach at Eunice H.S. under another legendary coach, Faize Mahfouz, and was also an assistant coach at St. Edmund in 1961 and 1962.  From 1963 until 1973, he was the head coach at Eunice after Mahfouz, then head coach at St. Edmund H.S. from 1973 until his retirement in 1985.  As head coach, Nagata won 135 games in 22 seasons, and reached the LHSAA Class-1A finals twice – in 1978 and 1979. 

Though a strict disciplinarian on the field, he was known for his compassion and generosity at school and in the community.  He mentored and inspired generations of young men in Eunice, and he was inducted into the LHSAA Hall of Fame in 2008.  After his death in 2001, he was commemorated in the Joe Nagata Memorial Jamboree, an annual fundraiser and high school football event that continues in Eunice to this day.


Nagata, Joe (c. 1970s) (St. Edmund) (Baton Rouge Advocate)[Head coach Joe Nagata, St. Edmund H.S., circa 1973-1985.  Baton Rouge Advocate.]

Dodge, Tom. “Nagata’s youth proved solid foundation.”  The Eunice News, vol 110, no. 56 (2013 Jul. 21):  p. 10-11. 

Dodge, Tom.  “Nagata – loyal Nissei in the 442.”  The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 58 (2013 Jul. 28):  p. 10-11. 

Dodge, Tom.  “Nagata’s assistants to be honored at jamboree.”  The Eunice News, vol. 111, no. 59 (2014 Aug. 31):  p. 8. 

Dodge, Tom.  “Coach Nagata – the Eunice High years.”  The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 60 (2013 Aug. 4):  p. 10-11. 

Dodge, Tom.  “Joe Nagata – the St. Edumund years.”  The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 62 (2013 Aug. 11):  p. 10-11. 

Dodge, Tom.  The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 64 (2013 Aug. 18).

Dodge, Tom.  “Nagata jamboree kicks off season.”  The Eunice News, vol. 111, no. 67 (2013 Aug. 29):  p. 10-11. 

Dodge, Tom.  “Coaches remember Nagata’s influence.”  The Eunice News, vol. 111, no. 66 (2014 Aug. 24): p. 1B-2B. 

Ardoin, Bobby.  “Joe Nagata’s efforts still appreciated at Eunice and St. Edmund high schools.”  Baton Rouge Advocate (2014 Aug. 29). 

Robinson, Greg.  “Be a Good Sport About it:  Early Nikkei Athletes in Louisiana.”  Discover Nikkei (2017 Sep. 5). 

Profile for Sam Nagata.  War Relocation Authority, 1945.  Online Archive of California. 

Charles Einstein.  “When Football Went to War.”  Sports Illustrated (1971 Dec. 6). 

“Faster Tiger Offense May Hit Aggies With Nagata at Full.”  Baton Rouge Advocate (1943 Dec. 10):  p. C-7.  

The Poston Chronicle, vol. XVL, no. 5 (1943 Oct. 15):  p. 6. 

Rohwer Outpost (New Year Edition, 1944):  p. 14. 

Denson Tribune, vol. II, no. 1 (1944 Jan. 4):  p. 5. 

Rohwer Outpost, vol. IV, no. 5 (1944 Jan. 19):  p. 4. 

44nd Regimental Combat Team, Go For Broke Educational Center. 

Ric, Kahuna.  “Joe Nagata Was A Hero.”  2019.  Accessed from Youtube (

Friends of Coach Joe Nagata Facebook page. 

[Research Notes.

Something else that deserves attention is that Nagata’s identity as a Japanese American was never mentioned in the Louisiana newspapers.  He was treated the same way as any other starting player on the Tigers roster.  The Japanese American newspapers, however, described Nagata as a victorious champion, overcoming prejudice and rising to the highest level of college sports, while representing all Japanese Americans with dignity.]

One thought on “Joe Nagata

  1. My Joe Nagata article from last month has been well received and shared by many people around the country [if only my Chinese American WWII articles were so popular…]

    The Joe Nagata story is fascinating for several reasons. First, you wouldn’t expect segregated Louisiana to demonstrate such progressive attitudes towards Japanese Americans. During the war, congressman Leonard Allen, former governor O.K. Allen’s brother, was a leading opponent to the repeal of Chinese Exclusion in 1943 — exactly because he thought giving Chinese immigrants the same rights as white immigrants would set a dangerous precedent and encourage other minorities to challenge race-based laws.

    And yet, there were other instances in Louisiana where Japanese Americans were protected by their neighbors against discrimination and persecution by the federal government, as documented by my colleague Greg Robinson from the University of Quebec at Montreal:

    The entire Asian American experience challenges the ideas we have about the U.S. as being a biracial society. Race relations in this country are more complicated.

    Second, the U.S. claimed it was fighting the war to oppose international racism, yet the U.S. itself was plagued by widespread inequality. The WWII generation was aware of these issues, thus the stories of the 142nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy were widely known by the end of the war and promoted by allies of the Japanese American community, especially allies within the U.S. military.

    As a WWII historian myself, I’ve discovered that the U.S. military is a fascinating reflection of the democratic values of this country. It struggled with the same problems of inequality, but over the course of the war, minorities were assigned ever more difficult and important roles, and in 1948, president Truman issued executive order 9981 to desegregate the military, many years before the long process of desegregation took began in the rest of the country.

    If you haven’t been there recently, please consider visiting the National WWII Museum after they complete their expansion at the end of this year. There is already a section on “Fighting For the Right to Fight,” which discusses the Japanese American experience during the war, as well the experiences of African Americans, Latino Americans, and many others. I can’t give any details away at this time, but I am working to get a major event related to Chinese American WWII history to be scheduled at the Museum next year.


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