VOX POPULI: Thanks, Gen. Eric Shinseki

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki meets with Nisei veterans at the opening of the Congressional Gold Medal exhibition in Portland, Ore.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki meets with Nisei veterans at the opening of the Congressional Gold Medal exhibition in Portland, Ore. in August 2013.

By JEAN YAMAMOTO, Portland JACL

Five years ago, President Obama nominated Gen. Eric Shinseki to be secretary of veterans affairs and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

Gen. Shinseki came out of retirement and answered the call to serve once again because of his deep commitment to veterans. At that time, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center neglect scandal was recently in the headlines and highlighted the pervasive and daunting problems within the military and veteran health care systems.

In May of this year, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned amid scandal and corruption in the Department of Veterans Affairs. An honorable man, Secretary Shinseki trusted his senior leaders, which was misplaced. Their misconduct and gaming of the appointment system led to long waiting lists and deaths of veterans who died while awaiting care.

He said, “That breach of integrity is irresponsible. It is indefensible and unacceptable to me. Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed — and now.”

However, even House Speaker John Boehner said that the problems with the VA weren’t just about one person but the entire system underneath him.

The Portland JACL will introduce an emergency resolution at this year’s JACL National Convention to recognize and thank Gen. Eric K. Shinseki for his service to his country. Last year we had the privilege of hearing Secretary Shinseki deliver the keynote speech at the American Heroes Luncheon opening the Congressional Gold Medal traveling exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society. The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor for distinguished achievements and contributions, was awarded to Nisei veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.

Eric Shinseki was born in Kauai during World War II. His uncles served in the 442nd, which inspired him to pursue a military career. He graduated from West Point and then completed two combat tours in Vietnam, where he was awarded three Bronze Stars for valor and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. In 1970 during a fierce gun battle, he stepped on a mine and lost half his right foot. Although he could have retired, he worked hard to return to active duty the next year.

After Vietnam, Shinseki continued up the military career ladder, serving at Schofield Barracks and Ft. Shafter in Hawaii and then as an instructor at West Point. He went on to serve more than 10 years in Europe in a variety of assignments. He had important posts at the Pentagon, was promoted to brigadier general in 1991, became the commanding general of the 1st Calvary Division in 1994, and then was named the commander-in-chief of U.S. Army forces in Europe. In 1999, President Clinton named him Army chief of staff.

In February 2003, three weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Gen. Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” to secure the country and he also warned that a post-war occupation could awaken “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.” Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Paul Wolfowitz scoffed at his assessment and eventually forced him out. History now shows that Shinseki was right.

When Gen. Shinseki retired in 2003, he was the highest-ranking Asian American service member.

We are grateful to Gen. Shinseki for his 38-year military service to his country and his five-year tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Throughout his long career he has served as a positive role model for living a life of integrity and speaking truth to power.

We hope that the JACL community will join us in support of a resolution to honor this war hero and inspiring public servant.

(Editor’s note: The resolution was passed during the JACL National Convention, held July 9 to 13 in San Jose.)

Jean Yamamoto is secretary and past co-president of the Portland Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Opinions expressed in Vox Populi do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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