CLAREMONT — Rev. George Aki, the last surviving chaplain to serve with the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, received his Congressional Gold Medal during a small ceremony on Nov. 23 at Pilgrim Place, a retirement facility for retired clergy in Claremont.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian medal and is awarded by Congress. Rev. Aki received the award from Mits Kunihiro from E Company, Jim Yamashita from I Company, and the reverend’s son, Jim Aki.
In March 1944, Chaplain Aki joined the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby, Miss. As the last chaplain to serve the unit, he stayed behind to train replacements and was later deployed to Italy.
Because the war was coming to a close in Europe by the time he got there, one of his main tasks was to locate the isolated graves of the American soldiers who had been hastily buried during the heat of battle. When they found a body, Aki, along with his assistant, Raymond, would immediately look for the dog tag.
As he identified the dead soldiers, he wondered about their own shattered dreams for the future and “what moved them to fight for the country that stripped them of their birthright and cast them and their families into American made concentration camps?”
Aki’s lifelong personal mission from that point was to do what he could to honor the men whose lives were cut short in a strange land without loved ones and friends to be near them. “I was never a hero,” he said, “but I was glad and privileged to be on the “Go for Broke” team.
Aki is 98 years old and physically and mentally is in good shape. He attributes his good health to walking every day.