WASHINGTON — On Feb. 19, AARP sponsored the homecoming of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Japanese American World War II veterans.
After concluding its traveling exhibition in seven cities around the country, of which AARP was one of the sponsors, the Congressional Gold Medal is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History as part of its “Price of Freedom” exhibit. The exhibition was seen in New Orleans, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Houston.
“AARP is honored to have been part of the national celebration of the Japanese American World War II veterans who sacrificed so much in service to our country,” said Daphne Kwok, AARP vice president of multicultural markets and engagement, Asian American and Pacific Islander audience. “To have the Congressional Gold Medal and the story and history of our Japanese American heroes preserved and told at America’s premier museum – the Smithsonian – is one of the most important aspects of preserving and telling this nation and world about the valor of these men as their own families were detained behind barbed wires back in the U.S. internment camps.”
“We are grateful to AARP for their continued support of Japanese American World War II soldiers and to their commitment to seeing that their legacy is preserved,” said Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairperson of the National Veterans Network, a coalition that enlightens the public about the legacy of Japanese American World War II soldiers.
Feb. 19 is the date in 1942 that Executive Order 9066 was signed, requiring the incarceration of all U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, and is now observed as a Day of Remembrance.
In 2011, almost seven decades after the beginning of World War II, the Congressional Gold Medal was bestowed collectively on the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service for their extraordinary accomplishments during the war. The men in these units, composed almost entirely of Nisei, bravely fought against America’s enemies on the battlefields in Europe and Asia, even while many of their families and friends were held in internment camps.
On Feb. 18, President Barack Obama invited seven veterans, all in their 90s, to the White House Oval Office to thank them in person for their service.
Ten veterans were in attendance at the Smithsonian American History Museum for the homecoming ceremonies and were welcomed by Director John Gray. The veterans helped unveil the Congressional Gold Medal and participated in the special unfolding and folding of a replica of the nation’s first stars-and-stripes flag.
Veteran Terry Shima spoke on a panel about the veterans’ experience and the history behind the Congressional Gold Medal. “The Congressional Gold Medal is the embodiment of the Japanese American story that speaks to the greatness of America,” he said.
After the event, the veterans met with eighth-grade students from Matapeake Middle School in Kent Island, Md.
AARP Broadcast has produced a mini-documentary about the Nisei soldiers, “Honorable Journey,” narrated by actor George Takei.
For more information about how AARP helps Asian American and Pacific Islander families get more out of life, visit www.aarp.org/aapi or @aarpaapi.