By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
“American Heroes: World War II Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal” opened May 4 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo with several veterans and their families in attendance.
The exhibit, which runs through June 9 in the JANM’s Hirasaki National Resource Center, features the medal — the nation’s highest civilian honor — awarded collectively to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in November 2011.
Now on the third leg of a seven-city national tour, the exhibit is co-presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the National Veterans Network. It includes an iPad application and a social-learning website developed by NVN and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
One part of the exhibit is devoted to Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel Inouye, a decorated veteran who passed away last December at the age of 88. In 2000, his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor, which is now displayed near the Congressional Gold Medal.
The opening ceremony was emceed by ABC 7 news anchor David Ono, who has produced special reports on the Nisei soldiers. “What a great crowd we have here today,” he said. “I’m really excited to be part of this wonderful ceremony … So many familiar faces.”
The LAPD’s Emerald Society performed “America the Beautiful,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “God Bless America” on bagpipes and drum. Colors were presented by members of the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, Regional Support Command, California State Military Reserve, under Lt. Col. Russell Nakaishi.
Musician Miya Folick sang the national anthem as the veterans and their families stood at attention.
JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura spoke on behalf of the Southern California coordinating committee, which also included the 100th/442nd Veterans Association, Go For Broke National Education Center, JACL-Pacific Southwest District, MIS Veterans Association of Southern California, and Veterans Memorial Court Alliance.
“We want each and every one of you to know that we appreciate you, we honor you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Kimura told the veterans, adding, “Isn’t it gratifying this morning to see all the scouts and the other young folks who are helping out as well today?”
Kimura gave special thanks to NVN Chair Christine Sato Yamazaki: “Your energy, your enthusiasm and most importantly your follow-through … made the national tour happen. Without the National Veterans Network’s fundraising efforts and leadership, its collaboration with all the different organizations nationally and locally, this would not have happened.”
Speaking on behalf of the regional sponsor, Union Bank, was its president and CEO, Masashi Oka, who is also CEO for the Americas for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. “The world needs to know what these patriotic Japanese American veterans of World War II sacrificed in the name of duty and honor … I’ve been humbled to gain some understanding of how profoundly you exemplified those traits of deep character,” he said.
Oka recalled the “privilege of spending time with your compatriot Sen. Daniel Inouye on several occasions.”
“What you accomplished didn’t end on the battlefield,” he added. “And the ripple effects are still going strong. Not just Americans … but also people like me and companies like mine still benefit immensely from your distinguished service. When you open the eyes of the world to what duty and honor look like, you open the door for vibrant Japanese American communities to continue flourishing almost 70 years later.”
City Councilmember Jan Perry, who is leaving office after representing the Little Tokyo area for more than a decade, said, “My dad and uncles were all World War II veterans, so I grew up with stories about the 442nd. My uncle was in the 92nd Infantry and I felt like I already knew you before I knew you … So you can imagine the thrill it was to be able to work with all of you … Wherever I am, I’ll continue to work with you.”
She said of Inouye, “It was a special privilege to be able to just talk to the senator, just to sit within five feet of him. It was exciting, something that I’ll never forget.”
Perry added, “It’s wonderful that these young people are here because we do have to continue to tell the story, all of us.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), who introduced the legislation that resulted in the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Nisei units, was unable to attend but addressed the audience in a videotaped message, saying that the enactment of his bill was “one of the proudest moments of my legislative career.”
“My American Heroes”
The keynote speaker was retired Maj. Gen. Rodney Kobayashi, who served as battalion commander of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry in Hawaii and was recalled to active duty in the Middle East in 2003. Calling the Nisei soldiers “my American heroes,” he told stories of “courage, selfless service, loyalty and extreme professionalism” in both the military and civilian life.
Kobayashi recounted the actions of then-2nd Lt. Inouye on April 21, 1945 in San Terenzo, Italy, which led to the capture of an artillery and mortar post. The Medal of Honor citation noted, “Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions.”
Sgt. Bob Hoichi Kubo’s actions in Saipan in 1944 illustrated the accomplishments of the MIS in the Pacific, Kobayashi said. “Kubo entered a cave by sliding down a rope. He laid down his .45 caliber pistol before the enemy soldiers. He then shared his K-rations with these hungry soldiers and calmly talked them into surrendering. He is credited with saving the lives of more than 100 women and children.”
100th veteran Richard Miyashiro from Kobayashi’s hometown of Hilo, Hawaii, was cited as an example of postwar contributions. “He along with his wife Evelyn in 1946 founded Cafe 100, a landmark drive-in restaurant … The cafe was a meeting place for veterans. Sen. Inouye would visit Cafe 100 and order their beef stew and visit with fellow World War II veterans. Before Richard Miyashiro passed away in 1982, he supported many baseball and veterans associations in Hilo and became a pillar in the community.
“We thank you for your distinguished service,” Kobayashi told the vets. “I personally thank you for your many sacrifices … and the examples that you have set in your community and in our history.”
Ono introduced a video tribute to Inouye, calling him “an extraordinary man of valor, a beloved public servant, and one of the guys among the veterans.” The video showed Inouye attending the opening of “Beyond the Call of Duty,” an exhibit about the Japanese American Medal of Honor recipients, at JANM in 2001. That year he also rode in the Nisei Week Parade as grand marshal.
Irene Hirano Inouye, the senator’s widow and former CEO of JANM, said, “I want to personally thank many of you who are here for your very kind messages of condolence following Dan’s passing. I know that he’s with us here in spirit this morning and that he would be so pleased that the Congressional Gold Medal exhibit is here …
“Dan credited his fighting time in World War II as the experience that formed the foundation for his approach to the rest of his life. The friendships that he forged with members of his company, the sacrifices that he and others made and witnessed, and the resilience of the men that he commanded taught Dan lessons that he would never forget. Dan wanted none of us to forget that war must be a last resort, and he dedicated much of his life to providing for the military and to keeping young men and women out of harm’s way …
“He would often tell the story that a national survey that was taken 50 years after Pearl Harbor asked high school seniors what was the significance of Dec. 7, 1941. Less than half of them answered correctly. So the efforts to create exhibitions, curriculum, films and to preserve and share the history have had a significant impact … I know that he would have wanted all of us to continue to work together to carry on that legacy and to fight for the betterment of our country.
“At a gathering like this, he would always remind us that following Dec. 7, 1941, he was declared an enemy alien … but that he would rise to become a United States senator, the president pro tem of the United States Senate, and third in line to succeed the president of the United States. He would always proudly say that only in this country was that possible.
“So as we come together today and we remember the 442nd, the 100th and the MIS and their remarkable foundation which they laid for us … Let us celebrate this morning his wonderful legacy.”
A series of programs will be held in conjunction with the exhibit. The first, held right after the opening, was a talk by photographer Tom Graves, author of “Twice Heroes: America’s Nisei Veterans of World War II and Korea.”
For more information on the exhibit and related programs, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.
The exhibit was shown at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans (Jan. 12- Feb. 17) and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu (March 9-April 14). After Los Angeles, it travels to the De Young Museum in San Francisco (June 29-Aug. 4), Oregon Historical Society in Portland (Aug. 24-Sept. 29), Chicago History Museum (Oct. 19-Dec. 8) and Houston Holocaust Museum (Dec. 21-Jan. 26).
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo