By GEORGE YOSHINAGA
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Saturday, Nov. 13)
I often use the quotation, “Timing is everything.”
Today’s column is a good example of this adage.
Last week Editor Gwen called to ask me if I could write and send in two columns for this week.
The reason was that Thursday is Veterans’ Day and the Rafu will be closed. Thursday is my usual day for submitting the week’s second column.
I told Gwen I’ll try to fulfill her request.
Well, here’s the “timing” angle.
After hearing Gwen’s request, I received a length e-mail from a reader who signed his letter, “Mauiyosh.”
He touched on an ideal subject for Veterans’ Day.
Some of the contents of his letter might have been published and read by a few of you. However, even if so, since it is all about Nisei veterans, it is ideal for this special holiday.
The letter covers a speech made by Eric Saul, a U.S. Army historian from Monterey, Calif., who has a great knowledge on the accomplishment of Nisei soldiers and the Japanese American community. He gave his speech at the ceremony honoring Medal of Honor winners William K. Nakamura and James Okubo in Seattle, WA., earlier this year.
Saul said: “So why was it you Nisei, second generation, born in America, were willing to volunteer for the Army, from the plantations of Hawaii, when you were considered second-class citizens or from concentration camps in America?
“Your parents couldn’t become citizens or own land, so land was put in your name.
“Before the war, you wanted to become doctors, lawyers and professionals, but you couldn’t. No one would hire you. So you worked on your family farms, flower orchards and shops.
“You were often segregated in the Little Tokyos and Japantowns.
“You couldn’t go where you wanted, be where you wanted, be with whom you wanted.
“Furthermore, our President on Feb. 19, 1942, signed Executive Order 9066 that said you weren’t Americans any more, you were “now-aliens.”
“So, why did you join the Army?
“Why did you become soldiers and ironically become of all things, the most decorated Army unit that this country has ever produced?
“There were words like ‘giri’ and ‘on,’ which your parents taught you, which means ‘duty,’ and ‘honor’ and ‘responsibility.’
“You had to pay back your debt to your country.
“Oyakoko: Love for family. Your parents couldn’t become citizens but you loved your families and you had to prove your loyalty at any cost.
“You used your bodies as hostages for your families to prove your love for democracy and justice when you volunteered from those camps.
“Kodomo no tame ni: “For the sake of the children.” Many of you didn’t have children at the time, but you knew you wanted to have families. And you knew that you didn’t want your children to have to suffer as you did.
“You wanted your children to be able to be doctors and lawyers and professionals.
“If you went into the military, did your job, perhaps things wold change.
“You knew it and you fought for it.
“You even came up with your own regimental motto that’s on this honored regimental flag in front of me. It was “Go For Broke.”
“You set the tone for your own regiment and lived up to its motto. You made democracy work.
“Because of your wartime record, your children can now be what they want in a country that you wanted for them.
“There’s an old Japanese proverb that says if you do something really good and you don’t talk about it, it must be really, really good.
You never talk about your wartime record. You didn’t tell your children, you didn’t tell your wives and you didn’t even tell the country.
“Gaman: Internal fortitude, keep your troubles to yourself. Don’t show how you’re hurting.
“Shikata ga nai: Sometimes things can’t be helped. But other times, you have to go for broke and you can change things.
“Haji: Don’t bring shame on your family. When you go off to war, fight for your country, return if you can, but die if you must.
“Shinbo shite seiko suru: Strength and success will grow out of adversity.
“When I was curator of the Presidio Museum, I wanted to know why you joined the Army. Why did you join from a concentration camp?
“A veteran from Cannon Company named Wally told me a story. His family was sent from Los Angles to the Santa Anita racetrack, which was an Assembly Center for Japanese Americans. There, they were put in horse stalls.
“Before the war, they had a flower shop, they had their own home in Los Angeles and they were a middle-class family.
“Now they were living for weeks in a horse stall that hadn’t been cleaned when they moved in and had the stink of horse manure. Wally’s father said to him, ‘Remember that a lot of good things grow in horse manure.’ It did.
“I remember hearing a story from Chaplain Higuchi, Chaplain of the 442nd, who was from Hawaii. I asked him, ‘How could the Nisei have joined the Army under these circumstances? How could they have done what they did?’
“Chaplain Higuchi said he himself couldn’t understand because he was from Hawaii and hadn’t suffered the same discrimination. But his job as a Chaplain, was to go through the pockets of the Nisei who had been killed in combat.
“He remembered going through the pocket of one mainland Nisei. In his wallet was a news clipping that told how the family farm had been burned down by racists near Auburn, CA. Yet this Nisei still volunteered for service.
“Chaplain Higuchi said, ‘There was no medal high enough in this country to give to the Nisei who had been killed and lying in front of him.’ Chaplain Higuchi had to write a letter home to his parents.
“You Nisei fought for this country, your country. It has taken fifty-six years to get to this point but you made democracy stand and for what it really means.
“When you came home from the war, President Truman had a special White House ceremony for you. It was the first time that the President of the United States had a ceremony at the White House for a unit as small as a battalion. It was raining that morning in Washington and Truman’s aide said, ‘Let’s cancel the ceremony.’ Truman said to his aide, ‘After what those boys have been through I can stand a little rain.’
“He said to the Nisei, bearing the regimental standard with the motto, ‘Go For Broke,’ and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to tell you what you have done for this country. You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice and you won. You made the Constitution stand for what it means: the welfare of all the people, all the time.’
“Lastly, he advised the Nisei to keep up that fight.
“So, in the 1980’s you fought for redress. One of the reasons that redress passed so overwhelmingly in Congress was the overwhelming record of the 100/442nd and the MIS. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided an apology for your parents and for your suffering.
“So on the battlefield of France, Italy and German, ‘Go For Broke’ stood for the welfare of all the people, all of the time. You never lost faith in your country and we are here today to celebrate that faith, the result of that faith is that your children can be anything they want. Professionals, doctors and lawyers. The price you paid for democracy was the highest combat casualty rate of any regiment that served in the United States Army.
“The 100th/442nd suffered 314 percent combat casualties. The 100th/442nd was an oversized regiment with its own cannon and engineer company and even its own artillery battalion. The 4,000 men who started off in Feb. of 1943 had to be replaced nearly three and one half times. Eventually, about 14,000 would serve in the 100th/442nd. I see many of my friends from I Company and K Company here today.
“In one battle alone, the battle for the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in Oct. 1944, which you fought in, 2,000 of you went to rescue 200 Texas soldiers who couldn’t be rescued by their own division. You suffered almost a 1,000 casualties in that one battle alone, almost five days of constant fighting.
“In K Company, you started off with 186 riflemen. By the time you reached the Lost Battalion, there were only eight men standing. I Company did worse. They started off with 185 men and ended with fewer left standing.
“It was unbelievable. You rescued the Texas Lost Battalion.
“For that, you won two Presidential unit citations. The Army designated the Rescue of the Lost Battalion to be among the top ten battles fought by the U.S. Army in its 230 year history.
“The Nisei ultimately won seven unit citations, no other unit for its size and length of service has won that many Presidential unit citations.
“Chet Tanaka counted many of the citations and medals the 100th/442nd earned. Of the 14,000 men who served, there were 18,000 medals for heroism and service.
“You had become the most decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of service.
“The U.S. Army had three infantry divisions lined up to breach the Gothic Line which protected Po Valley and entrance to Austria. Those three divisions couldn’t do it, they were stalemated for six months.
“The Army than asked the 442nd Regiment to break the stalemate.
“The Commander and officers of the 100th/442nd said to the Commander of the 92nd Division, ‘General Amond, we have a plan. ‘We can create a diversionary attack and break the Gothic Line if you give us 24 hours”
“The General fell out of his chair and said, ‘Impossible.’
“We’ve had three divisions hammering away at the Gothic Line. The Germans had their best SSs Divisions on the mountains and it was considered an impenetrable fortress.’
“He told the Nisei unit, ‘Just create a diversionary attack and we’ll do the rest.’
“But you Nisei soldiers had your own plan. You were smart. Your average age was 20 and your average IQ 116, eight point higher than necessary to be an officer in the Army.
“You were barely a 125 pounds soaking wet, but you were college-educated and you were going to ‘Go For Broke.’
“So you climbed up that mountain called Mt. Forgarito, which the Germans had so heavily fortified. You climbed it when they didn’t expect you. It was nearly a 4,000-foot vertical precipice. You climbed that mountain that was unclimbable in combat gear. The Germans couldn’t possibly expect an attack from that point. From nighttime until dawn you climbed, almost eight hours. Men fell as they climbed the mountain but no man cried out as he fell.
“You took the mountain and you broke the Gothic Line. It didn’t take 24 hours as you thought or a few weeks as the Army had planned. It didn’t take six months. The U.S. Army reported you broke the Gothic Line in ‘only thirty-four minutes.’
“If the story of the 100th/442nd is unbelievable, there is a more unbelievable story.
“It is the story of the Military Intelligence and Language Service. More than 6,000 Nisei served throughout the Pacific in a super-secret b ranch of the military. Nisei provided the eyes and ears of intelligence and language skills that helped to break the stalemate in the Pacific.
“They broke secret codes, interrogated prisoners, provided valuable propaganda and translated millions of documents to help win the war in the Pacific.
“By the war’s end, Gen. Willoughby, Gen. MacArthur’s Chief of Intelligence, declared that the Nisei shortened the war by two years and saved a million Allied lives.
“Never had so many owned so much to so few.
“I only wish that a million people could be here to hear your story and know your service.
“I wish every American could know your story.
“We owe a great debt of honor to you Nisei for what you did for the country and for democracy.
“It is a debt that can never be repaid.
“I am here to tell the story for your children because I know you can’t say it.
“It is a legacy that they must carry on and remember what you did for them and for all of us. Your legacy continues to protect us all.
“I remember during the Iranian crisis that there was talk of keeping Iranian Americans possibly in protective custody. Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga said, ‘You can’t do that.’
‘“That’s already been done and you were wrong then,’ so your wartime service protects all of us.
“You did make the Constitution stand for all of the people, all of the time.
“History works. You made it work and you made it work for me, for your children and for this country.
“Pres. Ronald Reagan remembered when he signed the Bill enacting the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which was called House Resolution 442, that blood that soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color.
“Americans stand unique in the world, the only country not founded on race but a way, an ideal
“You, Nisei came home-professionals and could go where you wanted and do what you wanted to do.
“You went about your lives, but you made sure that your parents could become citizens.
“By 1953, you saw your parents naturalized. Your parents had to wait, in some cases, 65 years to become American citizens. And they could own land for the first time. And others of Asian descent could own land for the first time.
“Your greatest success was that your children could be what they wanted to be, without discrimination that you suffered. Some of you became lawmakers and entered the House and Senate.
“There were more than 590 laws in California in the 19th and early 20th century, against Asians.
“You fought a fight to make sure those laws were challengeand overturned one by one.
“We thank Japanese American Senators Spark Matsunaga and Dan Inouye, veterans of 100th/442n for doing that.
“We thank you for your providing the legacy upon which they could fight for those rights.
“Justice prevailed and your parents became citizens. We stand at a pinnacle of your history in your golden years. Redress passed and a nation apologized for a terrible injustice perpetrated against its own citizens.
“A few months ago at the White House, President Clinton belatedly awarded 20 Medals of Honor to Japanese Americans Clinton stated in his speech that “In the face of painful prejudice, they helped define America at its best.”
“Last night I was speaking to one of my K Company friend, Tosh Okamoto,and he said to me, ‘Awarding of Medals of Honor to our boys is sort of icing on the cake.’
‘“I’ve sort of been angry a long time at my country and what happened to us during internment. Getting redress and the apology and having the country recognize my buddies, lifted a cloud from my head. I now feel like I’m truly American and it was all worth it.”’
“So, this is the happy ending of the 100th/442/MIS story.
“I thank you for sharing with us. I salute you. God bless all of you and tell your kids to tell the world.”
Well, there you have it. As I stated in opening today’s column, the foregoing was rather lengthy but since this week we saluted our veterans, Eric Saul’s speech has a little more meaning. And I want to thank Mauiyoshi for sending it to me.
Just curious part which of Maui he hails from. He might know a lot of my in-laws on Maui.
Okay, it’s time to flip from the serious side to the lighter side, which means it’s time to chuckle. Let’s try these:
• When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realized that God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked him to forgive me.
• Marriage is the only war where you get to sleep with the enemy.
• A tight dress is like a barbed fence. It protects the premise without restricting the view.
• There are only two four-letter words that are offensive to me—don’t and stop. Unless they are used together.
• Guns don’t kill people. Husbands who come home early kill people.
• Getting married is like getting into a bath tub. After you get used to it, it ain’t so hot.
• I’m not attracted by a girl’s mind. But by what she doesn’t mind.
• I was walking through the cemetery this morning and saw a guy crouching down behind a tombstone. I said, “Morning.” He replied, No, just pooping.”
Well, that’s it for today.
Hope Gwen can fill the space with my more than usual number of columns for one day.
George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.