By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Three days of events celebrating the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Nisei units of World War II ended Thursday with a low-key ceremony honoring the soldiers who never came home.
The site was the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, which includes a wall inscribed with the names of 814 Japanese American soldiers killed in action while serving in Europe with the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team or in the Pacific with the Military Intelligence Service.
The guests were relatives of those men, including siblings, nieces and nephews. Many of the soldiers were too young to have left behind wives and children.
The colors were posted by the 100th Infantry Battalion Color Guard and the national anthem was sung by tenor Edward Ozaki. U.S. Air Force Col. Bruce Hollywood (retired), a member of the Japanese American Veterans Association, served as emcee.
“Over the past few days it’s been wonderful to witness as a grateful nation acknowledged and celebrated the tremendous contributions of the Nisei soldiers,” said Hollywood. “Our nation’s highest civilian honor is a fitting tribute to these patriots, who valiantly fought and defeated the enemy abroad, and in doing so won a victory at home for generations of Japanese Americans that would follow them. We owe them not only for securing our nation’s liberty, but also for ensuring our individual opportunities. Today we have set aside these few moments to remember those who gave their last full measure.”
Craig Uchida, chairman of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, noted, “While the memorial foundation has sponsored numerous events since its dedication over 11 years ago, we’ve never held an event specifically for and with the families of the men who were killed in action. Don’t get me wrong — we’ve held numerous events and memorials on Veterans Day and at different times during the year. But we’ve never held the event with you, the descendants of the men whose names are inscribed on our walls.
“The families and friends who are here today share a common bond. You are the descendants of the 814 men who fought and died so courageously nearly 70 years ago. You are the living part of the legacy that these men left behind.”
The memorial includes the names of the 10 War Relocation Authority camps and the number of Japanese Americans incarcerated in each one. Uchida pointed out that soil from each of the camp sites is buried beneath each of the 10 names. He added that the reflecting pool contains five rocks representing five generations — Issei, Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei. There are plans to install a kiosk at the memorial and provide an audio tour via cell phone to further educate visitors, he said.
“Over the past few days I’ve enjoyed listening to you talk about your heroes and friends and family who served during the war, and those stories need to be continually told,” Uchida said. “The Congressional Gold Medal … raises our stories to a higher national level, but it’s your stories that make it come to life. Tell your story to your families and friends so that we and the rest of the world do not forget it.”
Religious perspectives were given by Rev. Brian Nagata of the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism and Capt. Kevin Gilbert, chaplain of the 100th Infantry Battalion.
Nagata, the son of a 442nd veteran, reflected, “Sixty-five years ago, who could have imagined that we would someday have members of Congress of Japanese ancestry? Who could have imagined Fortune 500 company presidents, attorneys, doctors, teachers, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners, generals, governors, state, county and city legislators, mayors, professional athletes and even … Cabinet members of Japanese ancestry?
“Let us always remember that none of these milestones in the Japanese American community would have been possible had it not been for the ultimate sacrifice made by these Nisei soldiers, who gave their lives not only for the sake of democracy and freedom but also for the dignity and honor of their parents, loved ones and all succeeding generations of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
“The Buddha also embraces each of you … for your loss. May your tears and pains … be forever comforted in knowing that your loss was not in vain and that today a million Americans of Japanese ancestry participate in every aspect of this nation and society.”
Nagata recognized individuals whose names are not on the memorial: “Let us also pause to remember and honor the courage, sacrifice, hardships and life challenges endured by our Issei otousans and okaasans, jiichans and baachans, for if it were not for them, none of us would be here today.”
Gilbert, referring to the Nisei who volunteered from camp, said, “In the face of social injustice … they harnessed their righteous indignation to win battles and in the process won the eternal respect of their nation and their world. We thank you for their sacrifice, for showing us in them the greatest love, laying down their lives for their friends and in the process calling friends those who had made them ‘enemy aliens.’ ”
Everyone joined in a moment of silence for the soldiers who did not live to see last week’s celebration.
Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard matters, delivered “congratulations on this well deserved recognition of the Nisei soldiers” from his boss, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“Growing up in Hawaii and having two grandfathers who fought in World War II, I was most familiar with the heroism and patriotism of the 100th, the 442nd and the MIS,” said McKeague. “But what I learned these last two days is that the humility and the resiliency of these brave men were just as remarkable … With November being National Military Family Month, I think it’s also poignant that so many family members have come to Washington to share in this celebration … supporting their husbands, their fathers, their grandfathers, uncles, brothers.”
The keynote speaker was Norman Mineta, former mayor of San Jose, member of Congress, secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton, and secretary of transportation under President George W. Bush.
Mineta, who was interned at Heart Mountain in Wyoming at age 10, said that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, “many of us found ourselves trapped in the middle. It was an injustice because it was not where we belonged or wanted to be. The men and women honored by the Congressional Gold Medal and those we honor here today refused to be relegated to the middle. Others were confused which country was theirs, but these folks had no doubts.
“In the face of discrimination, bigotry, hatred, fear, they refused to be shaken from their dedication to serving their nation, and our community’s entire future was shaped by the results of their courage and sacrifice.”
Mineta recalled that the site of the Japanese American memorial was part of the Capitol grounds, and legislation had to be passed to transfer ownership from Congress to the National Park Service. In exchange, a plot adjacent to the U.S. Supreme Court was added to the Capitol grounds.
“Just as we altered the shape of the Capitol grounds and the National Mall and the grounds of the United States Supreme Court in order to accommodate this memorial, those who served in the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service altered the shape of the soul of this nation because they refused to give up on it,” Mineta stated.
The ceremony closed with the laying of a wreath in front of the soldiers’ names as a symbol of gratitude. Mineta and McKeague accompanied the wreath and saluted as a bugler sounded “Taps.”
Each guest had an opportunity to look for a loved one’s name on the wall, make a rubbing with paper and pencil provided by NJAMF, and take a photo of the name.
Bess Saito of Torrance brought large photos of her husband, Shozo, his younger brother Calvin and his older brother George. “I had them reproduced just for this occasion,” she said.
All three served with the 442nd while their family was interned at Amache in Colorado. Shozo came home, but Calvin was killed while attacking a hill in Italy, and George was fatally wounded while advancing through the hills of Bruyeres, France. They left behind two other siblings, Kazuo and Mary.
Bess Saito also attended the dedication of the memorial in 2000. “That was just outstanding, the way they did it,” she said. “Everything was just so.”
In addition to the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the Capitol, the celebration included a Bronze Star Medal ceremony at the Washington Hilton and a wreath-laying at the National World War II Memorial.