Kanaya was a high school student in Portland, Ore. when World War II broke out. He and his parents were forcibly removed from their home and incarcerated. When his draft notice arrived at Minidoka Incarceration Camp in 1944, Kanaya joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Assigned to the European Theater of Operations, Kanaya and his unit held the Allied position against Gothic Line—a German defensive line in the Italian Campaign of World War II—ultimately pushing back the enemy.