By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
The sacrifices of Japanese American soldiers of all wars were remembered on Memorial Day weekend in three services throughout Southern California. The first event sponsored by the Japanese American Korean War Veterans and Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee was held on Saturday at the Japanese American War Memorial Court at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
Family and friends of loved ones killed in action gave floral tributes to the soldiers, including Gold Star Mother, Yoko Nakamura, whose son Paul was killed in Iraq in 2008. Ken Hayashi, master of ceremonies, also paid posthumous tribute to Gold Star Mother Mary Jane Mayemura, who passed away earlier this year at 97. The court honors all Nikkei soldiers killed in conflict from the Spanish American War to the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Keynote speaker Ron Yamada read letters written by Nisei soldiers to their loved ones, putting a human face on the oft-told tales of wartime heroism. One of the letters Yamada explained contained only 14 syllables, written by MIS veteran Harold Onishi’s Issei mother, who learned to write so she could communicate to her son at war.
“Masao-ya, Mame de modore. Chi Chi, Ha Ha. Masao, Return home safely. Dad and Mom,” Yamada said. “Realizing the love that had gone into this simple letter, Harold burst into tears. For the duration of the war, every letter that he received from his mother contained the same 14 syllables. He has kept everyone of those letters for the past 68 years.”
“Today, let us remember all of those who gave their last full measure for our country,” said Yamada.
At Evergreen Cemetery on Monday the gravesites of soldiers were decorated with small American flags and members of veterans groups placed flowers at the monument to Sadao Munemori, killed in action in Italy on April 5, 1945. The monument is inscribed with an honor roll of all Japanese Americans from the Southern California area killed in combat. Their names were solemnly read by George Tokeshi and Roy Tanaka during a service conducted by the Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Fer quoted Sen. Daniel Inouye, who each year has unsuccessfully introduced a bill to return Memorial Day to its original day to try and bring back it significance to the public.
“Sadly, Memorial Day has become the third leg of a weekend triad, meaning little to ordinary Americans,” said Fer, who spent six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “We who know, who have served must strive to remind those who do not and who have not.”
As a former POW, Fer said that all must be done to account for soldiers missing in action or being held prisoner. The San Pedro-native was flying a combat mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down and taken prisoner on Feb. 4 1967. He was not released until March 4, 1973.
“In my more than six years as a prisoner of war, no other factor was as important as loyalty to the
United States of America,” said Fer.
In the afternoon, veterans gathered again in Westminster at the gravesite of S/Sgt. Kazuo Masuda. At the JACCC War Memorial Court, his brother Masao placed a flower beside his name. Three Masuda brothers served during World War II, including Masao who was in the MIS during the Occupation of Japan. Kazuo perished on Aug. 27, 1944 in Italy; while brother Takashi was wounded during the rescue of the Texas Los Battalion.
El Rancho Marine Corps Jr. ROTC served as color guard and fired rifle volleys in tribute at each of the services.
On Saturday, Judge Vincent Okamoto, an Army Ranger during Vietnam, presented to 1st Sgt. Steve Mick an SKS carbine rifle as a token of appreciation.
Sgt. Mick said his young cadets who yearly participate in the JA veterans’ services, are well versed in the history of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“The cadets went to Manzanar. It makes your service and sacrifice more meaningful. As a Marine, sometimes we can be arrogant or obnoxious, but we truly honor the veterans, the warriors who shed their blood,” said Mick.