By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
Soldiers, some in uniform, others in wheelchairs, walked through the crowded ballroom at the Anaheim Hilton to enthusiastic applause last Saturday at the Go For Broke National Education Center’s annual Evening of Aloha. This year, the organization marked its 20th anniversary with a tribute to veterans of all wars, but particularly the Japanese American soldiers of WWII who battled enemies on the battlefield and prejudice at home.
“We keep losing them, we’re getting too old,” said Toke Yoshihashi, a veteran of the 100th Battalion.
Yoshihashi, who was among the first group to be drafted out of the camps, said he hopes that the younger generations will take up their cause. He volunteers at the Go For Broke Monument, speaking to visitors.
“I volunteer at the monument once a week. At first I didn’t like to talk, but I’ve been there 10 years so it’s pretty easy now,” he said.
Go For Broke highlighted its work in capturing oral histories of the veterans during the evening, which included a series of staged vignettes directed by Sachiko and Dom Magwili, showing the conflict between a Hawaiian soldier and his mainland brethren. To date the Hanashi program has conducted 1,050 interviews, to create the largest oral history archive of its kind.
Christine Sato-Yamasaki, GFBNEC CEO and president, noted how far the organization has come in 20 years, from early efforts led by Col. Young Oak Kim to create the monument in Little Tokyo to organizing teacher training throughout the country.
“We prepare ourselves to provide education and resources nationwide through a new headquarters in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. We have a very important story to tell and a lesson to share, the story of our Nisei soldiers is an American story that we know will resonate with America,” said Sato-Yamazaki.
During her presentation, artistic renderings of the Little Tokyo headquarters were shown, which is planned to be built in front of the Go For Broke monument.
Kevin Tamaki, newly elected chair of the Go For Broke board, said the board is looking at the future goals of the organization. Tamaki, a nephew of a 100th Infantry Battalion veteran, is director of external affairs at AT&T and is a registered lobbyist and a liaison to members of the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor’s Office, city departments and city boards and commissions.
“My goal is to get the board to think strategically, to expand the organization so it is able to meet not only the challenges of this economic downturn, but to hit the ground running once things improve. Then we’re off and running because we want to have our building in Little Tokyo and continue our programs from Hawaii to the East Coast,” said Tamaki.
There were 1,000 at the dinner, including Medal of Honor recipient Hershey Miyamura, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Rep. Ed Royce (D-Fullerton), Rep. Judy Chu (D-San Gabriel), Consul General Junichi Ihara and Assemblymembers Mike Eng and Warren Furutani.
Judge Vincent Okamoto, a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, delivered the keynote address, calling the gathered soldiers at the dinner an “assembly of heroes.”
“No one hates war more than the men who had to fight. The memorials aren’t built to glorify war, just the opposite. They stand as a cautionary symbol reminding us of the terrible price we pay when we send our young people off to war,” said Okamoto.
“They stand as perpetual reminders to the people of the government of this nation that American soldiers of Japanese heritage fought in wars and earned with their lives and blood a rightful place in mainstream society.”
Maj. General Robert Lee, adjutant general of the Hawaii National Guard, offered words of appreciation to Go For Broke and was joined by members of the current 100th Battalion in presenting a flag flown in Iraq to the organization. The general thanked Go For Broke for sending thousands of care packages to Hawaiian and Samoan soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are serving in the 100th and 442nd Army Reserve units.
Major Keith Horikawa, 42, a member of the 100th and a veteran two deployments to Iraq, said he was honored to carry on the legacy of the Nisei soldiers. His father Louis Horikawa served during WWII in the Military Intelligence Service.
“I have always been a big fan of WWII history, and every chance I get to meet veterans, it’s such an honor to meet them,” said Horikawa. “They really paved the way for guys like me to be able to serve and continue on.”