Rafu Staff Report
WASHINGTON — For Lawson Sakai, last week’s Congressional Gold Medal ceremony was the result of months of preparation in order to properly honor his fellow World War II veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.
A resident of Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County, Sakai is the founder of Friends and Family of Nisei Veterans (FFNV), which is part of the National Veterans Network, the organizer of the event. He was accompanied by his daughter, Joanne, as he took part in the celebration.
“We were involved with the whole process of the ceremony in Washington … We assisted with planning and making final decisions such as the design of the Gold Medal,” he said. “Even though the main celebration is over, we will be holding a Northern California reception for the veterans and widows that were unable to go to Washington sometime early next year. Ours will be in San Jose.”
Recalling the ceremony, which featured the Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress, Sakai commented, “It was good to hear politicians praise the veterans of the 100, 442nd and MIS — and keep their speeches short enough to finish the program in less than an hour. It made you feel as though you were really an American. And the press coverage was great — many TV programs and newspaper articles throughout the country.”
Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 27, 1923, Sakai graduated from Montebello High School and attended Compton College in Los Angeles and Mesa College in Colorado.
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist in the military and was rejected based on a government classification that he was an “enemy alien” despite being a U.S. citizen. His family relocated to Colorado in 1942.
In March 1943, enlistment opportunities opened up for Japanese Americans to serve in a segregated unit. Sakai immediately volunteered for 442nd and was overseas from May 1944 until November 1945. He served in all of the 442nd’s campaigns in Italy and France, including the liberation of Bruyeres, France from the Nazis and the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texas, during which he was seriously injured. Sakai was wounded four times, and received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge.
In December 1945 he was discharged from the Army. After leaving the service, he attended Pepperdine College and operated a travel agency in San Jose. He has been very active in 442nd reunions and recently led a group of 53 to Bruyeres for the 60th anniversary of that town’s liberation.
Each year, the FFNV presents an exhibit about the Japanese American soldiers during the Haru Matsuri at the Morgan Hill Buddhist Community Center.
FFNV was also commissioned to create an exhibit for the museum aboard the USS Hornet, a World War II aircraft carrier permanently anchored in Alameda. The first phase of the exhibit opened on Veterans Day in 2005 with Sakai as the featured speaker. The Hornet draws more than 100,000 visitors annually.