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Imperial Japan, 5 yen note, issued in occupied China acquired by a US soldier

Object | Accession Number: 2013.442.36

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    Imperial Japan, 5 yen note, issued in occupied China acquired by a US soldier

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Japanese 5 yen note acquired by Captain James (Jim) Edward Kirkebo, who served in the US Army from 1940-1945, and fought in Europe with the Thunderbolt Division from December 1944-May 1945. This type of currency was issued by the Bank of Japan but then used as a military banknote as Japan expanded their occupation of China in 1938. This note does not have the military seals. Kirkebo, 19, enlisted in the US Army in 1940 and, in August 1942, 2nd Lt. Kirkebo became commanding officer, C Company, 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division. In December 1944, Kirkebo's unit landed in Normandy, defended Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and spearheaded the Allied advance into Germany. Kirkebo received a battlefield promotion to captain on February 1, 1945. On May 5 and 6, soldiers from the 11th Armored liberated Gusen and Mauthausen concentration camps. At Mauthausen, the unit was tasked with caring for 19,000 starving inmates. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Kirkebo was awarded a Silver Star and 3 Bronze Stars for his leadership and heroism in action.
    Date
    issue:  approximately 1942
    Geography
    issue: China
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Estate of James Edward Kirkebo
    Markings
    face, four corners, white on black background : 5
    face, top left, bottom right, black ink : 795866
    face, bottom left, top right, black ink : {77}
    face, center, black ink : Japanese text [This banknote can be exchanged for 5 yen gold coin.]
    reverse, bottom left and right corners, white on brown background : 5
    reverse, bottom, center, white on brown background : 5 YEN
    Contributor
    Subject: James E. Kirkebo
    Issuer: Japanese Government
    Issuer: Bank of Japan
    Biography
    James (Jim) Edward Kirkebo was born on April 22, 1921, in Tacoma, Washington. He was the second of three children born to Gerhard and Irene Kirkebo. His parents were both born in Norway and immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Gerhard was a building contractor. In spring 1939, James graduated from high school and took a job as a shipping clerk.

    On September 14, 1940, he enlisted in the US Army. Following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II. James was deployed for four and a half months with the Asia Pacific Technical Operations (APTO) unit, through December 1941. James rose to the rank of Sergeant, with a specialty in reconnaissance. On December 7, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,a, and a few days later the US entered World War II. On May 11, 1942, James was selected to attend the Army’s newly formed Officer Candidate Course at Fort Benning in Georgia. In early August, Staff Sergeant Kirkebo, 2nd Training Regiment, 16th Co., graduated from the Officer’s Candidate Course and was reenlisted as a Second Lieutenant with a specialty in automotive maintenance and repair. In mid-August, the 11th Armored Division, the Thunderbolt Division, was activated, as part of the Third Army. James was made commanding officer of C Company, 21st Armored Infantry Battalion. The unit was deployed in September to Great Britain. In early December, his unit landed in Normandy, France, and moved north into Belgium. They entered combat on December 30, defending the road to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. In January 1945, the Division spearheaded the Allied advance into Germany. On February 1, James received a field promotion to Captain. In February and March, the 11th Armored overran several cities, then crossed the Rhine River. In April, the unit turned south towards the Danube River and Austria. James was wounded by shrapnel on April 25, but continued fighting. On May 5 and 6, the Division liberated Gusen and Mauthausen concentration camps, two of the largest camps in Austria. The Medical Inspector’s report on Mauthausen stated that "the situation in the camp on the arrival of the US Forces was one of indescribable filth and human degradation." There were over 19,000 prisoners, most little more than skeletons, and over half in need of immediate medical care. They had to keep the inmates from leaving the camp, until they were able to eat again. After starving for so long, they became sick from eating the soldier's rations or regular food. The 11th Armored Division turned to the task of providing medical services, caring for the inmates, and improving conditions in the camp.

    On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. The Division was placed on occupational duty until August 31, when it was deactivated. On September 1, James was reassigned to the 9th Armored Division, 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion, C Company. The 9th armored continued occupational duties in Germany until early fall. James returned to the US on October 13, 1945, the same day the 9th Armored Division was deactivated. He was relieved from active duty and honorably discharged. James had participated in the Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe Campaigns and received many medals for his service, including a Silver Star, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in leadership while in action against the enemy, Bronze Stars for heroic conduct, Purple Heart, American Defense Service, and campaign medals. James returned to Tacoma and went into business with his father as a building contractor. In the late 1940s, James married Lorna (1920-1998), and the couple had two children. James joined the 6th Army Reserves Company, Instructor Group, transitioning to retired in 1962. James, age 70, died on June 4, 1991, in Tacoma, Washington.

    Physical Details

    Language
    Japanese
    Classification
    Exchange Media
    Category
    Money
    Physical Description
    Rectangular paper currency with a face design in black and light green ink. It has a lace pattern border with a stylized chrysanthemum at the top, and the denomination 5 in each corner. On the left is an image of the prayer hall of the Kitano Shinto shrine; in the center, Japanese text, and on the right, a realistic portrait of a man with a goatee, Sugawara no Michizane. Around the images is a light green scalloped border with foliage and a red Japanese character seal. The serial number is in the top left and bottom right corners. The reverse has a scalloped rectangle in brown underprint with the denomination 5 in the bottom corners. There is a superimposed medallion in red-brown ink with smaller medallions with Japanese characters on the left and right, a circular sun symbol in the top center, and 5 YEN in the bottom center. There are 2 Japanese seals on the bottom and a column of characters along the right edge, stamped in red ink. It is lightly creased with foxing.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 3.000 inches (7.62 cm) | Width: 5.250 inches (13.335 cm)
    Materials
    overall : paper, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The currency was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2013 by Jamie Kirkebo, on behalf of the Estate of his father, James Edward Kirkebo.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-28 10:31:36
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn84726

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