By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — The Congressional Gold Medal Gala Dinner, held Nov. 2 at the Washington Hilton’s International Ballroom, was shadowed by some sadness after it was learned that one of the honored veterans had passed away following the earlier ceremony.
Followed that day’s presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service at the U.S. Capitol, about 2,000 people — including Nisei veterans and their families, along with representatives of those killed in action and those who have died since World War II — attended the dinner.
Some unexpected bad news was delivered by retired Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Peterson, a decorated Iraq War veteran and nephew of MIS veteran Maj. Gen. Arthur Ishimoto.
“After our celebration this morning, upon return to this hotel, Akira Hoshizaki from Phoenix, Ariz., a member of the MIS, passed away,” Peterson announced. “His son Robert and their family decided to be with us tonight to honor their father.”
The surviving family members stood and were acknowledged with a standing ovation. Peterson asked the audience to “bow with me for a minute of silence to not only mourn Akira’s passing but to celebrate his life and service to country … Aloha ke akua. May God bless and keep forever Akira.”
He added, “I would also ask you to say a prayer, for last night two of our other veterans were hospitalized for heart problems. So please … pray for the speedy recovery of our two hospitalized veterans.”
The week’s activities apparently were strenuous for a number of the elderly participants. Following the dinner, paramedics treated a man in the ballroom and a woman on the second floor, where many of the veterans and their families were staying.
The pleasant surprise came at a point in the program simply listed as “White House speaker.” The speaker, via video, was President Barack Obama, who signed the bill authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal presentation a year ago. His message:
“Tonight I’m proud to join in honoring an extraordinary group of veterans who have made an enormous contribution to our nation. Together, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service are some of the most decorated units in the history of the United States military.
“And the story is uniquely American. While many of their families were placed in internment camps here at home, these brave men served with distinction overseas, fighting under the motto ‘Go For Broke,’ risking everything for the country they loved.
“Gentlemen, you believed in America even when America didn’t always believe in you. Many of you have continued to serve our nation, including my good friend (Sen.) Daniel Inouye. You are patriots pure and simple, and for that we will always owe you a profound debt of gratitude.
“As President (Harry) Truman said when you came home, you fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won. You remind us that diversity has always been our strength and our nation is better off because of the men and women who have come to our shores.
“So congratulations again to the veterans being honored today. And on behalf of Americans everywhere, thank you for everything you’ve done for the country we love.”
The event was emceed by former CNN news anchor Sachi Koto. The keynote speaker was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who was introduced by Ann Curry of NBC’s “Today Show.” Other speakers included Sen. Inouye (D-Hawaii), a 100th/442nd veteran and Medal of Honor recipient; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), who introduced the Congressional Gold Medal bill in the House; and Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), whose father served in the MIS.