Winston Ho 何嶸.
Researching Chinese American History in New Orleans 紐奧良華僑歷史研究.
2019 Jun. 3, Tuesday (updated 2019 Jun. 12).
[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.
[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].
[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.
[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.
[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. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine31227/Publication/Magazine31227.pdf
Dodge, Tom. “Nagata – loyal Nissei in the 442.” The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 58 (2013 Jul. 28): p. 10-11. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine31627/Publication/Magazine31627.pdf
Dodge, Tom. “Nagata’s assistants to be honored at jamboree.” The Eunice News, vol. 111, no. 59 (2014 Aug. 31): p. 8. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine59663/Publication/Magazine59663.pdf
Dodge, Tom. “Coach Nagata – the Eunice High years.” The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 60 (2013 Aug. 4): p. 10-11. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine32083/Publication/Magazine32083.pdf
Dodge, Tom. “Joe Nagata – the St. Edumund years.” The Eunice News, vol. 110, no. 62 (2013 Aug. 11): p. 10-11. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine32538/Publication/Magazine32538.pdf
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. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine33398/Publication/Magazine33398.pdf
Dodge, Tom. “Coaches remember Nagata’s influence.” The Eunice News, vol. 111, no. 66 (2014 Aug. 24): p. 1B-2B. http://archives.etypeservices.com/Eunicenews1/Magazine33398/Publication/Magazine33398.pdf
Ardoin, Bobby. “Joe Nagata’s efforts still appreciated at Eunice and St. Edmund high schools.” Baton Rouge Advocate (2014 Aug. 29). http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/sports/high_schools/article_74f451d4-a918-5a1a-bf9a-a0a9d9e9d82c.html
Robinson, Greg. “Be a Good Sport About it: Early Nikkei Athletes in Louisiana.” Discover Nikkei (2017 Sep. 5). http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2017/9/5/nikkei-athletes-louisiana/
Profile for Sam Nagata. War Relocation Authority, 1945. Online Archive of California. https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft0g5002v1/?brand=oac4
Charles Einstein. “When Football Went to War.” Sports Illustrated (1971 Dec. 6). https://www.si.com/vault/1971/12/06/615072/when-football-went-to-war
“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. https://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-145/ddr-densho-145-422-mezzanine-3df97010b0.pdf
Rohwer Outpost (New Year Edition, 1944): p. 14. https://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-143/ddr-densho-143-128-mezzanine-17c5c68b9f.pdf
Denson Tribune, vol. II, no. 1 (1944 Jan. 4): p. 5. http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-144/ddr-densho-144-130-mezzanine-704f16a1ae.pdf
Rohwer Outpost, vol. IV, no. 5 (1944 Jan. 19): p. 4. https://ddrstage.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-143/ddr-densho-143-132-mezzanine-5e8c3f2f8f.pdf
44nd Regimental Combat Team, Go For Broke Educational Center. http://www.goforbroke.org/learn/history/military_units/442nd.php
Ric, Kahuna. “Joe Nagata Was A Hero.” 2019. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac8r6ZuVIUE).
Friends of Coach Joe Nagata Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/friendsofcoachjoenagata/
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.]