Memorial Day 2020

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Japanese Americans pause to honor veterans amid safer-at-home restrictions.

Colleen Hayashi places a floral tribute to soldiers killed in the Korean War at the Japanese American National War Memorial on Saturday at the JACCC Plaza.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

In an Army jacket and black mask, Ken Hayashi carried a small bouquet of flowers and placed them under the names of Japanese Americans killed during the Vietnam War at the Japanese American National War Memorial Court at the JACCC on Saturday.

In a Memorial Day like none in recent memory, Japanese Americans found ways to honor the sacrifice of the men and women of the armed services, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of annual gatherings.

At Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, the Sadao Munemori Post 321 sent a floral bouquet to be placed at the 442nd Regimental Combat Team memorial. The cemetery was open over the weekend for families, even as the state encouraged the public to avoid large gatherings and continue to follow safer-at-home guidelines.

The Hayashi clan gather at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights on Memorial Day to remember Henry Muneo Hayashi, a member of the 100th Battalion.

At the JACCC, Hayashi, joined by his wife Colleen and children Corey and Kristyn, took video for a presentation that was uploaded onto the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance website. Robert Horsting, co-author of “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Legacy,” served as cameraman and also placed flowers in tribute.

In most years, a couple hundred people, including families of soldiers killed in conflict, would gather for a somber ceremony at the War Memorial Court, which is inscribed with more than 1,200 names.

Sisters Virginia and Donna Kuhara attend family and friends’ gravesites during Memorial Day weekend at Evergreen Cemetery.

Hayashi, president of the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance and a Vietnam War veteran, said the current situation highlights not only the veterans but also the front-line workers who are battling the pandemic.

“We want to remind everybody to spend a few minutes to look at the Memorial Court and remember those who gave their lives as well as those who are risking their lives now to keep us safe,” Hayashi said.

During Vietnam, Hayashi was drafted out of UCLA and served in the U.S. Army Fourth Division in a base camp from1967-68. He considers himself one of the lucky ones among Vietnam veterans and says it’s his life’s duty to maintain the monument and the memory of the soldiers.

“All the names on the memorial were basically kids, 18, 19, 20 years old primarily. How many of us would like to see our life’s history stop after the first 21 years?”

The Kanamura clan work together to weed and clean headstones of family members who have passed.

Judge Vincent Okamoto, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, had written an address that he would have given during the annual tribute. This year, Kristyn Hayashi read Okamoto’s words, which offered comfort to families who have lost loved ones in combat.

“Recognize that unwritten beside each name is the broken heart of a mother, a father and the grief of family and loved ones left behind,” Okamoto wrote. “The wall serves to tell the parents of those who perished that we remember and honor their sons and share the pain of their loss.”

To view the Memorial Day video, visit www.memorialcourtalliance.org.

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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