By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer
Nearly 70 years after the guns fell silent, France has again shown her memory is long.
Under sunny skies more akin to summertime than a Nov. 9 afternoon, 11 former members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were reminded of France’s gratitude. The former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s, assembled at the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo to receive the French Legion of Honor Medal, that nation’s highest honor for achievements in military or civilian life, whether French or foreign nationals.
The men were the latest recipients of the award, given by the French to recognize their efforts to liberate the country during World War II.
“On behalf of the French government, as well as the people of France, I would like to tell you very sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” said Fabrice Maiolino, the deputy consul general of France in Los Angeles. “Thank for your bravery, thank you for your heroism, thank you for your sacrifices. You will forever have the esteem and infinite gratitude of the people of France.”
Describing the 442nd as “glorious,” Maiolino repeatedly described the appreciation that continues to be held in his homeland for the men – almost all of whom were Americans of Japanese descent – who came to fight for France, even though they were less than welcomed in their own country.
“You left your homes and your families to fight and die for us, and France does not forget. France will never forget,” Maiolino said solemnly, noting that many of the soldiers’ families sat in guarded internment camps as the fighting took place.
He also paid tribute to those who never returned from the battleground.
“We remember the ultimate sacrifice of many of your comrades who rest in the soul of France. They will forever remain in our hearts,” he said.
After giving brief but personally potent biographical information of each recipient, Maiolino pinned the Grand Cross, a ten-pointed array with green backing, on each man.
In attendance to receive the honor were: Tech Sergeant Tokuji Yoshihashi; Staff Sergeant Harry H. Kanada; Staff Sergeant Hiroshi Nishikubo; Sergeant Don S. Miyada; Sergeant Fumio Steve Shimizu; Sergeant Takashi Frank Sugihara; Sergeant Harry H. Yoshimura; Corporal Noboru Don Seki; Pfc. George S. Kanatani, Pfc. Makoto James Ogawa; and Pfc. Takashi Wada.
Seki, now 89, was a member of one of the 442nd companies that were sent to rescue the “Lost Battalion,” an infantry division from Texas that was surrounded by the Germans in Vosges Mountains on Oct. 24, 1944. A week later, he was severely wounded by enemy machine gun fire, costing him his left arm.
Giving thanks for the honor and comments, Seki recalled a visit to the former French battleground in 2009, in which he asked his grandkids to “Look around and see if you can find Grandpa’s arm!”