By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area Nisei veterans and their families were recognized by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other dignitaries at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony held April 22 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco Japantown.
Like other regional celebrations, the event was organized for the benefit of veterans who were unable to attend the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service in Washington, D.C. last November.
Bronze replicas of the CGM from the U.S. Mint were awarded to 32 veterans, 19 widows of veterans, and 19 other next of kin. About 400 people attended the ceremony, which was co-hosted by the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), Golden Gate Nisei Memorial VFW Post 9879, and San Francisco Nikkei Lions Club.
The emcee was Robert Handa, a reporter for KTVU, the local Fox affiliate. “I have had a chance to do numerous interviews with a number of the distinguished gentlemen here on the stage … It is just a real pleasure for me to be here,” he said.
Handa added, “To the widows and the veterans, the tribute we’re giving you today is only a fraction of what we would like to convey to you in terms of our respect and the feeling of honor that we have for what you’ve done and the sacrifices that you have made for this country.”
Special guests included Consul General of Japan Hiroshi Inomata and John McPartland, president of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Board of Directors. A recorded message from President Obama was played.
The invocation was given by Chaplain Omar Doi from the VFW post, who said of the Nisei vets, “Their sacrifice was a true service to all humanity.”
The presentation of colors was conducted by the U.S. Army Color Guard, led by Master Sgt. Stanley Kamiya of the U.S. Army Reserve. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited by Jason Chooey, an Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 58. The national anthem was sung by Richard Kishimoto of the Nikkei Lions.
NJAHS President Bryan Yagi noted, “The Congressional Gold Medal is our nation’s highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress. The awarding of this medal continues a tradition that began with the awarding to George Washington of the medal. It has gone on to include the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and now our Nisei veterans.”
Brig. Gen. James Cook, commander of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 91st Division, spoke on behalf of Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve. “This is a very special moment (for) the whole Army Reserve family because the 100th Battalion, which is the only element that exists today of this body that we’re honoring, is actually a reserve unit stationed at Fort Shafter, Hawaii,” Cook explained.
He added, “I am not only honored but I am humbled by the veterans that are before us. They carry on not only their pride, their duty and their commitment, but more importantly they leave a legacy for the children that are here.”
Yagi introduced Pelosi as “a friend of the Japanese American community during the 25 years she has been in public office.” She represents San Francisco in Congress and became the first female speaker of the House in 2007, serving in that post until last year.
Pelosi recalled the CGM ceremony in Washington: “The crowd gathered was so large that we didn’t even fit into the Rotunda of the Capitol. It had to be moved to … Emancipation Hall, which instead of hundreds of people, enabled thousands of people to attend …
“I took special pride in talking about San Francisco and how blessed we are in California with our great Japanese American community that day. It is appropriate that California lead the way because of that blessing. Sen. Barbara Boxer led the way with the bill in the Senate, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) in the House. But it was bipartisan and national.”
Pelosi also remembered that Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a decorated veteran, gave a “very gracious” speech on behalf of the veterans and that “it was wonderful to see” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in the audience.
Addressing the consul general, she said, “I hope that you know the pride we take in our Japanese American community here every single day. Every person with family values, commitment to the work ethic, commitment to education, a sense of community, is a source of strength to our great country.”
Referring to the 100th/442nd’s motto, Pelosi said, “The gold medal awardees ‘went for broke’ not only in fighting the enemy and tyranny but in fighting discrimination at home. Despite the injustice of internment, today’s awardees rose above being embittered. Indeed, many felt empowered to prove loyalty and love of country … They faced deadly combat in Italy, France, and Germany, and the Pacific Theater … In accepting the gold medal … you bring luster to this award and you bring honor to our nation …
“We remember those also who never came home, and we honor their families … Today, in your names, we rededicate ourselves to creating a more just America.”
Pelosi and Cook presented medals to the veterans on the stage and the widows in the front row, shaking hands with each recipient. They were assisted by Master Sgt. Romeo Arrivas, Master Sgt. Gina Carr, and Sgt. First Class Paul Carr. The soldiers’ names were read by Brandon Quan and Darryl Abantao, both grandchildren of veterans.
The closing prayer was given by Rev. Ronald Kobata from Buddhist Church of San Francisco, who said of the veterans, “Their actions, not just on the fields of battle but on the grounds of their sense of giri, duty, and on, indebtedness, helped to counteract the poisons of suspicion and war hysteria that negated the constitutional protections of Americans of Japanese ancestry, transforming the darkness of prejudice into a light of honor and respect.
“This light has illuminated a pathway for succeeding generations to aspire to journey from the humble plantations, tenant farms, family enterprises and desolate internment camps to the highest stages of human endeavor. Over the decades, the honorees have typically shied away from individual and personal recognition, but through this event, a grateful community joins together to acknowledge a special legacy of service that the Congressional Gold Medal honorees symbolize.”
The program concluded with a slideshow of those killed in action and Hashimoto’s rendition of “God Bless America,” with the audience joining in.
The ceremony was held on the last day of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Earlier that morning at the Hotel Kabuki, the festival’s 25th annual Senior Appreciation Brunch also recognized veterans, in this case nominated by Bay Area Nikkei senior organizations. The honorees were:
Yu-Ai Kai (San Jose) — Moffet Ishikawa, Fred Kitajima, Jack Matsuoka
Sakura Kai (El Cerrito) — Shigeyuki Doi, Marvin Uratsu, Yoshiro Tokiwa
Nikkei and Retirement (San Francisco) — Warren Eijima, Mas Ishikawa, Ronald Yoshida
Kimochi Inc. (San Francisco) — Marshall Sumida, Ken Nihei
Eden Japanese Community Senior Center (San Lorenzo) — Oliver Nishimura, Fred Shimasaki, Yutaka Kobori
Pine United Methodist Church (San Francisco) — Yoshio Kato (posthumously), Masaru Kawaguchi, Koji Ozawa
Emceed by Mike Inouye of NBC Bay Area, the program included greetings from Consul General Inomata, State Sens. Leland Yee and Mark Leno (both D-San Francisco), San Francisco Supervisor Christina Olague, and Dr. Sumie Iwasaki of Kaiser Permanente. Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Asaki Osato and First Princess Megumi Yoshida appeared along with the rest of the 2012 court, and singer Ayako Hosokawa provided entertainment.