Vincent Okamoto Named Nisei Week Grand Marshal

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Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Vincent Okamoto

The Nisei Week Japanese Festival features a Grand Parade as part of its first weekend of events, which will make its way through the streets of Little Tokyo on Sunday, Aug. 12, starting at 4 p.m.

The parade will be led by the 2018 grand marshal, Vincent Okamoto, Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, decorated Vietnam vet, author and community leader.

The procession will start at Central Avenue and head west on Second Street, turning north on San Pedro Street, turning east on First Street, then turning south and ending on Central.

The parade will feature traditional Japanese taiko drum performers, local community groups, high schools, elected officials and representatives from Nagoya (Los Angeles’ sister city), and the newly crowned 2018 Nisei Week Queen and court.

Vincent H. Okamoto was born in a federal internment camp during World War II; the 10th child and the seventh son born to Japanese immigrants. All six of his older brothers served in the U.S. military. The eldest two fought in Europe during World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a racially segregated unit of Japanese Americans that went on to become the most decorated unit in the annals of U.S. military history for its size and length of service. Another brother volunteered for the Marines and fought in the Korean War.

Okamoto graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of International Relations in 1967. He received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant of infantry from UCLA ROTC, where he rose to the rank of cadet colonel, was the first Japanese American to command the Bruin Rangers and was designated Distinguished Military Graduate in 1967.

“Bravest man I ever knew” was a fellow soldier’s description of then-Lt. Vincent Okamoto, who was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame in Fort Benning, Ga. in 2007.

He completed officer infantry school, ranger school and airborne training at Fort Benning in Georgia, and served with the 82nd Airborne Division before volunteering for duty in the Republic of South Vietnam.

In Vietnam he served as an infantry platoon leader, company commander and intelligence officer. Wounded in action three times, he received 14 combat decorations that included the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor in combat. His other decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Army Commendation, and three Purple Hearts.

After three years of active duty, Okamoto left the Army with the rank of captain. He attended the USC School of Law and served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney for five years before entering private practice. Okamoto has been active in the community; he was elected to the Gardena City Council, was on the founding board of the Japanese American Bar Association, and served on the board of the California Veterans Affairs Commission.

In addition, Okamoto was chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee for Blue Cross of California, and a member of the Los Angeles County Vietnam Veterans Affairs Board. In 2000, he was selected as the Japanese Cultural Institute’s Man of the Year.

In 2002, he was appointed by the governor to the California Superior Court. Judge Okamoto was designated UCLA ROTC Alumni Veteran of the Year in 2006. In 2007, he was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame, the first Japanese American so honored since World War II.

In 2016, Okamoto was named “Hero of America” by the American Veterans Center in Washington, D.C. In 2017, he was featured in the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War. He authored a novel about the Vietnam War, “Wolfhound Samurai,” and wrote “Forged in Fire,” a biography about Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura. Okamoto resides in Torrance.

For more information on the parade and other festival events, visit www.niseiweek.org.

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