By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
WASHINGTON – Japanese American veterans and their families who gathered in the nation’s capital for the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony to be held on Wednesday also participated in a Bronze Star Medal presentation Tuesday at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Medals were awarded to 40 Nisei soldiers, nine of them posthumously, for meritorious service in Europe during World War II. According to the Army News Service, the Army decided that soldiers who received the Combat Infantry Badge were owed a Bronze Star, but some never received theirs.
The invocation and benediction were given by Donald Rutherford, the U.S. Army’s chief of chaplains, who said that those who never came home “did not lose their lives, but they gave them … to their country, their families, and for their buddies. Their sacrifice shall never be forgotten in the story of America’s great crusade against tyranny.”
Gerald Yamada, president of the Japanese American Veterans Association, said, “We are here to pay special tribute to the Japanese American soldiers who served in World War II. Their journey started with the federal government denying them the privilege of serving in the armed forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They faced prejudice and suspicion about their loyalty. The U.S. Army gave them the opportunity to serve …
“Their common bond was the deep, passionate belief that they were Americans, and their willingness to risk all to show their loyalty to America. They wanted to prove that America was not justified in imprisoning 120,000 persons merely on the basis of their Japanese ancestry by putting themselves in harm’s way … Above all else, they brought honor to their families.
“Now their incredible journey continues. Members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. With this award our nation salutes your honor, your loyalty, patriotism and valor.”
Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairperson of the National Veterans Network, a coalition of 25 organizations, added, “We are here to express our appreciation to these soldiers for making a mark in our history by serving in the U.S. Army at a time when their friends and families were behind barbed wire …. They had a challenge that most of us cannot fathom taking on, fighting discrimination at home, fighting fascism abroad, and risking all to prove that they were loyal, patriotic Americans. “As a result of their perseverance, courage and determination, they proved that Americanism is about heart and mind … Because of you, we are able to enjoy freedom and equal opportunity … Because of you, we hold our heads up high and we thank you for leaving that invaluable message that we can carry on – to know what it means to be an American.”
Speaking on behalf of the 33,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Army during World War II and the 800 who were killed in action was George Joe Sakato, a Medal of Honor recipient for helping to liberate the Vosges region of northeastern France. “We thank the Congress for awarding the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service,” he said.
“We also thank the government, which allowed us to serve in the U.S. Army to defend our country and to prove our loyalty to America. When President Harry Truman welcomed the 442nd back in ceremonies in Washington, D.C. … he honored the loyalty of all Japanese Americans who served. “This contributed to a series of reforms that allowed Japanese Americans and other minorities to compete for any rank and position in the public and private sector without regarding ethnic origin. These actions by our government reflected the goodness
and greatness of America. Thank you for treating us as just Americans.”
Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, introduced the keynote speaker, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno. Bostwick noted that Odierno has commanded units at every echelon from platoon to theater with duty in Germany, Albania, Kuwait, Iraq and the U.S., and served as primary military advisor to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
“Today we are here to honor and present the Bronze Star Medal to 40 incredibly brave veterans of World War II,” Odierno said. “They were not only members of the greatest generation but have a unique place in our nation’s history, a history that is both tragic and an inspirational story of the American military experience.
“From the shock of Pearl Harbor and out of fear and prejudice, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment camps. But what’s incredible to me is that many of them did not allow that grave injustice of the internment to stand in their way. They remained steadfast in their commitment to their country and volunteered to serve a nation in combat, a selfless act of devotion.”
He noted that the 442nd earned over 18,000 individual medals, including 9,000 Purple Hearts, over 4,000 Silver Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 22 Legions of Merit and 21 Medals of Honor.
“In one legendary fight, where others failed, the 442nd fought their way through an incredibly complex situation and a determined enemy to save the trapped Texas battalion which later became known as the Lost Battalion,” Odierno said. “The men from the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team might be small in stature, but stand above their peers in determination, courage and heart. Together they defined the ethos that we all live by today: never leave a fallen comrade.
“In addition to the 442nd, Japanese Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service and helped the Army and Marines in the Pacific Theater to develop actionable intelligence that even led to the raid that killed Adm. (Isoroku) Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. After the defeat of Japan, 3,000 Japanese American linguists helped the U.S. build a democratic Japan who is one of our strongest and enduring allies in the world today …
“Their actions, along with other groups that faced discrimination, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, provided President Truman with the moral standing to desegregate the armed forces of the United States, and today diversity is the foundation of our strength. The strength of our nation, the strength of our armed forces, and the strength of our army. You all were the foundation of that strength.”
Odierno concluded, “The lesson of the Japanese American experience is that fear and prejudice make our country weaker, not stronger. Japanese Americans, like others, have more than earned their place in our country, in our Army and in our society -a melting pot to include African Americans, Hispanic Americans and today, Arab Americans …
“I’m proud to stand in front of you today as the 38th chief of staff of the Army because your selfless service, commitment, resilience and simple but powerful values like love of country have set the example for all of us who wear this uniform today. You make us proud to be soldiers.”
Seated in the front row, the veterans and the family members of deceased veterans stood up in turn as Odierno presented the medals.
To honor those who did not come home, wreaths were presented by Sam Fujikawa a veteran of the 100th, Company C; Shinyei Rocky Matayoshi, a veteran of the 442nd, Company G; Ranger Roy Matsumoto, a MIS veteran who served with Merrill’s Marauders; and Calvin Ninomiya, brother of Ben Ninomiya, who was killed in the rescue of the Lost Battalion. “Taps” was played as everyone stood at attention.
Special guests included Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (also a former Army chief of staff) and Hershey Miyamura, a Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.
The U.S. Army Band provided music, including “God Bless America” and the U.S. Army and 442nd songs. The Army Color Guard presented and retired the colors.
Students from Spark Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown, Md., sang the national anthem and “America the Beautiful.” The school was named after the late Hawaii senator and World War II veteran.
Bronze Star Medal Awardees
Harry J. Fukasawa
Sam S. Furukawa
Robert Iso (to Brian Iso, nephew)
Don K. Masuda
Ben N. Matsui
Peter T. Miyashiro (to Theresa M. Sonoda, daughter)
Richard Sadao Murashige
Frank Ken Nishimura
Yoshinobu Oda (to Cathy Oda Grodzins, daughter)
Takashi Okamoto (to Rev. Toshio Okamoto, brother)
Ted Kaoru Ohira (to Chizuko Ohira, spouse)
Itsuki Oshita (to Elsie Oshita, spouse)
Ryosuke Sakaguchi (to Henry Sakaguchi, brother)
George T. Sakato
Shizuo Sakurada (to Ronald Sakurada, son)
Jim J. Tokushige (to Kerry F. Kane, granddaughter)