Preserving the Shine of Their Service

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Above and below: Young volunteers clean the Memorial Court at the JACCC in Little Tokyo, which honors Japanese Americans who gave their lives in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and other conflicts.

By LANDON KAWAGUCHI

Why do we remember? Why do we dredge up painful memories of the past?

We remember so we don’t repeat our mistakes from the past. We bear the sins of our fathers so that we have the knowledge to make the world a better place.

On Oct. 26, 2019, Spit and Polish, a community service event, took place next to the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo. Spit and Polish was an event aimed at giving back to the Japanese American veterans and community.

During the event, 10 students from various ages came together to clean the memorial dedicated to the fallen Japanese American veterans from the numerous American wars. It honored troops from World War II to Desert Storm, with symbols next to their names that signified military achievements, such as the Medal of Honor and other military badges.

Cleaning the memorial was a way to honor and connect with those fallen soldiers who had lost their lives trying to make the world a better place for their community. As a Japanese American, I felt like it was my duty to honor those men who gave up their lives protecting the country and the future of our community. I felt like I was able to do that by participating in this event.

After the memorials were cleaned spotless, we had a chance to learn about the individuals whose names are forever inscribed on the walls. The first thing I noticed while participating was that the men who bravely fought for a better life were not much older than I was. This gave me a new-found respect for the brave soldiers, who not only fought and died at such a young age, but also sacrificed their lives for their country, who had turned their backs on them.

The second thing I noticed was that those men led similar lives to me, which humanized them and also gave me a greater understanding of their lives. We were told a story of the bravery and sacrifices of the men who served in the 442nd in World War II and that even though they were seen as traitors by the American government, they still made the best out of their situation. It made me reflect on how I can live my life, by working hard and making the best out of every situation.

After we learned about the individual names on the wall, we were taken inside the JACCC, where we had lunch and were told personal experiences about life in combat from the point of view of a Japanese American in the armed forces. I got to read a story about a Japanese American World War II veteran, and what the war was like from his perspective.

Throughout the entirety of the lunch, we were told stories by the Japanese American veterans who had joined us. Some were funny, like how their commanding officers told their comrades that they looked like the enemy or their shipmates falling asleep while looking out for underwater mines. Some were also bittersweet, like the stories of missing home and their families.

When the event was over and I had time to reflect on what I did, I felt like it was my responsibility to honor the men who were just like me, who gave up so much to fight for what was right. It is my duty to pass on the bravery and sacrifice that these men gave to the generations of Japanese American children in the future.

We remember in order to keep the memories and the lessons learned from the past alive. We remember to honor a culture. We remember to pay respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us at home.

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