Big Island Salute

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Cheryl Higashi Pennell, daughter of 442nd veteran Yoshio "Lefty" Higashi, and Alfreda Kimura, wife of 442nd veteran Harold Kimura, with members of the Kona Japanese Civic Association.

Veterans and their families gather in the Kona Gym.

Rafu Staff Report

KONA, Hawaii — A Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring local Nisei veterans of World War II — the second and last such event on the Big Island — was held June 15 at Kekuaokalani Gym in Kona with more than 700 people attending.

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee (retired), former adjutant general of Hawaii, presented the medals.

More than 100 veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, or their survivors, were recognized at the ceremony, which was held for those who were unable to attend the CGM ceremony in Washington, D.C. last November.

A series of regional CGM ceremonies have been held across the country, including Hawaii.

Kona organizer Tracey Seki Matsuyama said, “I attended the D.C., Honolulu and Hilo events and was asked and unable to invite the Kona veterans on such short notice to Hilo. As the only 442nd Sons & Daughters member in West Hawaii, I felt an obligation to honor the veterans on this side of the island. I asked Gen. Robert Lee at the Hilo event (held April 14) if I could have an event in Kona, calling it the ‘Last Call.’

“I received an overwhelming response from the entire island, Maui, Honolulu and the mainland … I bought 87 medals on my own and Gen. Lee and the 100th/442nd Honor/Color Guard from Honolulu brought seven of their original ones from the D.C. and the Honolulu events. I’m hoping donations will help defray the cost.”

Some attendees came from as far away as California, Oregon and New York.

Matsuyama’s parents live in Long Beach. Her father, Don Seki, is a veteran of the 442nd’s L Company and a docent at the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, and her mother, Sumi Seki, was involved in the successful campaign to obtain redress and an apology for Japanese Americans who were interned.

Tokuichi Nakano, 93, a 442nd veteran from Naalehu, Hawaii (Big Island).

“They have been my inspiration to do this ceremony for these veterans by bringing us kids up with the highest respect and understanding of what they have gone through so we and the next generations could be Americans,” said Matsuyama.

Her son, C/2nd Lt. Evan Seki Matsuyama of the Civil Air Patrol, Lyman Squadron, was one of the keynote speakers.

“My son also realizes the sacrifice both my parents had made,” she said. “I made sure since he was very young of this mission to continue the legacy. He was accepted to the Air Force Academy last year but was injured and could not return. He is now a full-time student here on the Big Island (at Hawaii Community College) in the public administration/criminal justice program — owing a lot to (LAPD Deputy Chief) Terry Hara, my classmate and mentor to my son.”

The other keynote speaker was Maj. Gen. Lee (retired), who served as Hawaii’s adjutant general from 2003 to 2011. In that capacity, he oversaw the Hawaii Army National Guard and Air National Guard (including deployments to the Middle East), Civil Defense, Office of Veterans Services, and Youth Challenge Academy. He was also then-Gov. Linda Lingle’s homeland security advisor.

Opening remarks were given by Wesley Deguchi, president of 442nd Sons & Daughters in Honolulu. His father, Yasunori Deguchi of Honaunau, a veteran of the 442nd’s F Company, was instrumental in tracking down the honorees.

The Army Reserve’s 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry presented and posted the colors. Leilani Kerr sang the national anthem and the state song, “Hawai’i Pono’i.”

Yasunori Deguchi, 442nd F Company veteran and father of Wesley Deguchi, president of 442nd Sons & Daughters in Honolulu.

Distinguished guests included Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, State Sen. Gilbert Kahele, Delbert Nishimoto for Sen. Daniel Inouye, Ross Wilson for Sen. Daniel Akaka, and Margaret Masunaga for Rep. Mazie Hirono. The invocation was given by Daniel Akaka Jr., the senator’s son and a practicing kahu (minister).

Following the keynote speeches and the presentation of bronze CGM replicas by Lee to veterans and their families, acknowledgements were made by Walter Kunitake, president of the Kona Japanese Civic Association, and “Taps” was played by Minoru Hanato of Disabled American Veterans, Kona Chapter.

Donations to sponsor the medals can be sent to: 100th Inf. Bn. Legacy Organization, c/o Ross Oue, CPA, 75-5706 Hanama Pl., Ste. 203, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740.

“We Must Not Forget”

Following is Evan Seki Matsuyama’s speech.

Throughout my high school and now college career, I’ve had a passion for history … I’ve always wondered: Why would a group of men, chastised and incarcerated by their own country, fight and die on foreign soil?

But as a fourth-generation Japanese American and grandson of a veteran, I realize that all of YOU, the members of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service, were fighting for us. You fought for an America free from foreign oppression and free from internal segregation. You fought to free your families from behind barbed wire and to ensure your children and grandchildren were free from injustices forced upon you. You fought to protect our future.

Tracey Seki Matsuyama (event coodinator) and Evan Seki Matsuyama (keynote speaker), daughter and grandson of 442nd veteran Don Seki of Long Beach.

The men of the 100th, 442nd, and MIS embodied the values impressed upon them by their Issei parents. Men like Jessie Hirata of the 100th Battalion embodied the value of shikata ga nai — sometimes things cannot be helped. While serving in Italy, Pvt. Hirata of B Company was fired upon by a German sniper. Hirata attempted to return fire but his rifle jammed. Despite being unarmed and outnumbered, Hirata captured an enemy shovel and assaulted the enemy’s position. Pvt. Hirata successfully neutralized the enemy threat and took three prisoners, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military honor.

Kona boys like Yasunori Deguchi of the 442nd and Sumio Nakashima of the MIS left their families, friends, coffee farms, and education, choosing to fight for freedom without recognition. They left their homes in the cover of darkness, under martial law, to be inducted. They boarded ships without any fanfare, unsure of their destination and their future. These volunteers from Kona exemplify the values of giri and on — duty and responsibility. They left their homes and families, answering their nation’s call, upholding their honor as Americans.

And then there are men like my grandfather, wounded in combat and forced to overcome their wartime injuries. My grandfather, Don Seki of the 442nd, embodies the value of gaman or humility. Despite losing his left arm in combat, he never complained about his injury and maintained his sense of humor, often cracking jokes when I visit. He would always tell me about wanting to save his left gloves for his friend, Sen. Inouye. He even went as far as telling my mom when she was little that “the dog bit it off.”

My grandfather did not feel like he lost anything while fighting in Europe, but instead made a necessary sacrifice for his country — a concept shared by all the Nisei veterans of World War II.

These extraordinary men gave their all to protect their country and maintain their honor. They fought to secure a better future for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In his 2001 address to Nisei veterans, U.S. Army historian Eric Saul cited shikata ga nai, giri, on, and gaman, attributing “your 18,000 medals … seven unit citations” and the prosperity of all Japanese Americans to “your heroism and strong ideologies.”

Kay Uno Kaneko and husband Ed. She is the sister of MIS veterans Howard and Stanley Uno and 442nd veteran Ernest Uno.

The actions of heroes like Mr. Hirata, Mr. Deguchi, Mr. Nakashima, and my grandfather inspire us to continue their legacy … Sansei like Col. Ellison Onizuka and Sgt. Rodney Yano followed in their footsteps, reaching new heights and maintaining the honor of their Japanese heritage.

We must continue their proud legacy. We must not forget what these men did for us or the values that they exemplify. We must thank them for their service and their sacrifice. We must not forget the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, and always remember, GO FOR BROKE!

Photos by Aki Imai and Tad Humble

Rev. Danny Akaka Jr. (right), who gave the invocation, with his wife Anna (left), their daughter Kalei, and Walter Kunitake, president of the Kona Japanese Civic Association.

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