George Shibata

George Shibata (November 14, 1926 in Garland, Utah – May 20, 1987 in Huntington Beach, California) was an American actor and the first Asian (Japanese) American graduate of any of the United States Service Academies, graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1951.


Shibata was born in 1926, the youngest of nine children, to immigrant Issei parents in Garland, Utah, where a Japanese farming community had established itself at the turn of the 20th century.[1] By his own admission an indifferent student, Shibata diverted his childhood attention to sports (football, basketball and track) and riding horses (including rodeo) in the farming communities around Garland.[2] Despite such distractions, he demonstrated an aptitude for mathematics and science, graduating in 1944 with solid grades from Bear River High School in Tremonton, Utah.[3] Shibata then enrolled in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) (also known as A-12) officer training program at the University of Idaho and Amherst College. He soon grew restless, however, and in January 1945, he enlisted for active duty as a U.S Army paratrooper. After jump training, he deployed to Europe in August 1945. He served post-war occupation duties in Germany for 18 months with the 82nd Airborne Division and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.[4]

Returning to Garland, Shibata sought an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. While previously on active duty, he had passed an admissions examination for enlisted soldiers, but was placed on a long waiting list. In 1946, Shibata garnered a nomination from Senator Elbert Thomas.[5] Enrolling the following year, Shibata found himself together with other Plebes (freshmen) who also had prior military service, many of whom had seen combat in World War II.[6] Despite the homogenous racial makeup of the Corps of Cadets at that time, Shibata became friends with many of his classmates, gaining a colorful reputation as a Cadet who was “always ready for a good time."[7] He even served as best man at the wedding of a roommate who was the scion of a prominent family in the deep South.[8] Shibata partially credited his popularity to trying out for the West Point sports (track and football) teams during his Plebe year, although injuries sidelined him during his sophomore year.[9][10] Shibata graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, becoming the first Asian (Japanese) American graduate of any U.S. service academy.[11] The young Nisei’s graduation was considered to be a major milestone in breaking through racial barriers.[12] Reader’s Digest even wrote an article profiling Shibata’s accomplishments at the academy.[13] Class of 1951 alumni included Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, David Manker Abshire, Frank Fischl, Robert Isaac, Edward C. Meyer, and Joseph (Joe) Clemons. Shibata commissioned into the Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant, the Air Force Academy not having yet opened.[14]

After commissioning, Shibata declined assignment to night-fighter aircraft, believing that he would not complete the lengthy specialized training before the Korean War reached an armistice. Ultimately assigned to an F-86 (Saber) squadron with the 58th Fighter Bomber Wing, he flew 30 combat mission out of Taegu Air Force Base, Republic of Korea.[15] He was primarily assigned to ground-attack missions and eventually served as deputy commander of the squadron. Shibata later commented that his actual combat experience turned out to be no more fearsome than the intensive flying and combat-crew training he underwent leading up to the war.[16] Shibata’s overseas service led to some droll experiences, such as eliciting racial confusion from Taiwanese officials when he ferried jets to Taiwan (then commonly referred to as Formosa),[17] and searching in vain for distant relatives in Japan with his limited Japanese language skills.[18] After the war ended, Shibata served various peacetime assignments primarily in the southern part of the United States.[19]

While serving as a general’s aide, Shibata began taking classes at Emory University Law School. In 1955, Shibata decided to separate from military service (transferring briefly to the Air National Guard) to pursue a career in law.[20] He later mentioned in an interview that he and his older brother, who was already a lawyer, were probably influenced by their late father. Shibata matriculated to the University of Southern California (USC) law school that fall.[21] Some of Shibata's family had by then moved to the Los Angeles area, and he had Japanese American friends in the area, some of whom he had met when they evacuated to Utah during World War II due to the racial mass hysteria against Japanese Americans in California.

In 1958, a chance encounter with a West Point classmate catapulted Shibata into the world of movie acting. While waiting out a rainstorm in Hollywood, he dashed into an eatery and bumped into Captain Joe Clemons, who was still serving in the Regular Army and currently assigned as the Army’s technical advisor to a United Artists production titled, “Pork Chop Hill.”[22] The movie was based on a book by Army historian Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, “Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action,” an account of the savage ferocity of the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, which was actually a series of engagements fought toward the end of the Korean War. Some 77,000 artillery rounds, not counting small caliber gunfire, were fired during the first engagement. Clemons, who would be depicted on film by lead actor Gregory Peck, was commanding officer of K (King) Company, 7th Army, and during the first part of the battle, lost 97 out of 135 men in his company. (Years later, Clemons would command the 198th infantry brigade in Vietnam and mentor, among others, a young Norman Schwarzkopf.[23][circular reference][24][circular reference]) At first, Clemons mistook Shibata for Lieutenant Tsugio ("Eddie" or "Tsuki") Ohashi, his old Company K executive officer who was also Japanese American, and mentioned the production’s search for the right actor to play the role. After clearing up the mistake, Clemons suggested that Shibata audition for the role.[25] Shibata demurred, as he did not initially take Clemons’ suggestion seriously. However, he later contacted producer Sy Bartlett, who ultimately decided to cast Shibata despite his total lack of acting experience. Bartlett was later quoted as intentionally seeking unknowns, journeymen, and stage actors (with the notable exceptions of Gregory Peck and sports great Woody Strobe), testing over 600 actors to fill the film’s 83 speaking roles.[26] Many of the cast would garner further fame later in their careers, including Harry Guardino, George Peppard, Rip Torn, Norman Fell, Robert Blake, Gavin McLeod, Martin Landau, Harry Dean Stanton, and Clarence Williams III. In an interview, Peck said, “This bit of casting was unorthodox even for Hollywood. We were having great difficulty getting the right person for the part. It called for someone with a certain youthful toughness and a military aura….Happily for us [technical advisor Capt Joe Clemons] discovered his former West Point classmate was attending USC.”[27] During the production, Clemons decided to play a joke on his Air Force pilot classmate, whose accommodations during the Korean War were more comfortable than Clemons', by ensuring that Shibata wore the only actual flak jacket in the film, the other cast members wearing foam rubber reproductions.

The film "Pork Chop Hill" proved a critical and commercial success, ending up as the 14th top grossing film of the year.[28] Despite Shibata’s lack of acting experience, the New York Times praised his performance, stating that “George Shibata (who happens to be a West Point graduate) is excellent as the company's Nisei executive officer.”[29] The movie experience prompted him to continue to pursue acting, although upon Gregory Peck's advice, Shibata completed his law studies and sat for the Bar examination. Shibata would continue taking roles as they presented themselves, later appearing in major Hollywood movies such as 1960’s Hell to Eternity (as Kaz Une) starring Jeffrey Hunter and David Janssen; 1960’s “The Wackiest Ship in the Army” (as Captain Shigetsu) starring Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson; 1963’s “The Ugly American” (as Munsang) starring Marlon Brando; and 1966’s “Around the World Under the Sea” (as Professor Uji Hamaru) starring Lloyd Bridges.

Shibata did not accept all of the roles offered to him, however, most notably rejecting a role on “The F.B.I.” television series starring Efrem Zimbalist. The role in an episode with the working title, “Will the Real Traitor Please Stand Up?”, depicted the character of a Nisei who joined the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II and tortured U.S. prisoners of war. (The episode was re-named “The Hiding Place” and aired in 1966 on season 1 of the series.)[30] Shibata was requested by Warner Brothers to take the role without reading the script, but Shibata insisted upon reading the script first. He then declined the role because, “the character twisted the real life person upon whom it was based. In reality, the Nisei was a 19-year-old attending school in Japan when World War II broke out. Trapped in Japan, he took a translator job in a prisoner of war camp but never committed any violence against prisoners...But in the TV script, he’s represented as a brute who is responsible for the maiming and blinding of American prisoners." Director Don Medford defended the script, contending the Japanese American community was loyal to the United States and, therefore, would find a traitor in their midst to be intolerable. However, Shibata noted, “Many people don’t remember the actual case, and the younger generation doesn’t understand the background of the actual story. It’s bound to have an adverse effect on the public."[31]

Meanwhile, Shibata graduated in 1958 from the USC School of Law. After completing work in his early movie appearances, he passed the California bar exam in 1959 and was admitted to the State Bar in January 1960.[32] In late 1960, Shibata joined the District Attorney’s Office in Orange County, California.[33] By 1963, he joined the City Attorney’s office of Huntington Beach, California. In 1964, he married and decided to stay in Huntington Beach as a community to raise his daughter and son. During his time as an Assistant City Attorney, Shibata was noted by the local press for aggressively taking on a big oil firm and housing industry attorneys on behalf of the public.[34] By 1966, Shibata had moved into private practice, and in 1967, he accepted his final acting role for a television pilot, "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Chinese Junk," (as Ben Foy) starring Tim Matheson and Richard Gates.[35] Shibata expressed an interest in politics and served on the Orange County Human Relations Committee, although never seriously pursued elected office.[36] Shibata continued in the legal field until his passing in 1987. He was interned at the cemetery of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, late that year.[37]


Year Title Role Notes
1959 Pork Chop Hill Lieutenant Tsugio Ohashi directed by Lewis Milestone (United Artists)
1960 Hell to Eternity Kaz Une directed by Phil Karlson (Atlantic Pictures)
1960 The Wackiest Ship in the Army Captain Shigetsu directed by Richard Murphy (Columbia Pictures)
1963 The Ugly American Munsang directed by George Englund (Universal International)
1966 Around the World Under the Sea Professor Uji Hamaru directed by Andrew Marton (MGM)
1967 The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Chinese Junk Ben Foy television pilot (final acting role) (20th Century Fox)


  1. ^ Buchanan, Barbara Wood (2004). Reflections of Garland. pp. 87–89.
  2. ^ Battaglia, Phil (December 6, 1956). "Land Or In The Air, Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association.
  3. ^ Crompton, Bob (June 19, 1955). "Visits Father's Homeland as a Soldier; He's Just as Confused as Anyone". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. p. 30.
  4. ^ "West Point, N.Y., graduates first Nisei from Academy". The Rafu Shimpo. June 12, 1951.
  5. ^ "The Peoples of Utah, Japanese Life in Utah". History to Go. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  6. ^ Hughes, John (August 23, 1947). "Ex-AAF Officers Like Life as West Point Plebes". The Daily News.
  7. ^ "WP-ORG Eulogy for George Shibata - USMA '51". West-Point.Org The West Point Connection. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  8. ^ Coleman, Dorothy (September 25, 1958). "Ex-Fighter Pilot is 'Brother's Keeper'". Mirror News.
  9. ^ Battaglia, Phil (December 6, 1956). "Land Or In The Air Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association.
  10. ^ "WP-ORG Eulogy for George Shibata - USMA '51". West-Point.Org The West Point Connection. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  11. ^ "First Nisei West Pointer, Lt Shibata, resigns from service, plans law career". Pacific Citizen. September 9, 1955.
  12. ^ "West Point Graduates First Nisei". Scene, the Pictorial Magazine. July 1951.
  13. ^ Battaglia, Phil (December 6, 1956). "Land Or In The Air, Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association.
  14. ^ Battaglia, John (December 6, 1956). "Land Or In The Air, Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association.
  15. ^ "George Shibata, 1st JA West Point Grad Dies". Pacific Citizen. June 19, 1987.
  16. ^ Coleman, Dorothy (September 25, 1958). "Ex-Fighter Pilot is 'Brother's Keeper'". Mirror News.
  17. ^ Battaglia, Phil (December 6, 1956). "Land Or In The Air, Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association.
  18. ^ Crompton, Bruce (June 19, 1955). "Visits Father's Homeland as a Soldier; He's Just as Confused as Anyone". The Ogden-Standard Examiner. p. 30.
  19. ^ "1st West Point grad leaves U.S. Air Force". The Rafu Shimpo. August 22, 1955.
  20. ^ "WP-ORG Eulogy for George Shibata - USMA '51". West-Point.Org The West Point Connection. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  21. ^ "Land Or In The Air, Shibata No Square". The Trojan Bar, University of Southern California Bar Association. December 6, 1956.
  22. ^ Hildebrand, Harold (August 24, 1958). "Intimate File Theaters Could Be a New Trend". Los Angeles Examiner.
  23. ^ "Joseph G. Clemons". Wikipedia. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  24. ^ "Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr". Wikipedia. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  25. ^ pp. 77-78 Rubin, Steven Jay Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010, 2nd edition McFarland, 1 Jan 1981
  26. ^ "George Shibata, 1st Nisei West Pointer, Saga of 'Pork Chop Hill'". The Utah Nippo (No 9400). June 4, 1958.
  27. ^ Hildebrand, Harold (August 24, 1958). "Intimate Theaters Could Be a New Trend". Los Angeles Examiner.
  28. ^ "Top Grossing Movies of 1959". The Numbers. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  29. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 30, 1959). "'Pork Chop Hill'; War Drama Directed by Lewis Milestone". The New York Times.
  30. ^ "The F.B.I. (1965-1974) The Hiding Place". IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  31. ^ "Zimbalist Film Storm Rolls On In County". The Orange County Register. August 18, 1965.
  32. ^ >, retrieved July 10, 2020 "The State Bar of California Attorney Search" Check |url= value (help). The State Bar of California. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  33. ^ "West Point's first Nisei graduate now deputy dist. att'y". Pacific Citizen. October 28, 1960.
  34. ^ Collins, Jerome (October 11, 1965). "People You Know". Daily Pilot/News-Press.
  35. ^ "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Chinese Junk". IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  36. ^ "George Shibata, 1st JA West Point Grad Dies". Pacific Citizen. June 19, 1987.
  37. ^ "George Shibata, 1st JA West Point Grad Dies". Pacific Citizen. June 19, 1987.

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