By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
Nisei veterans of World War II, who collectively will receive the Congressional Gold Medal later this year, were saluted at a special program held Sunday in Little Tokyo during the Nisei Week Japanese Festival.
A group of veterans gathered with their families in the JACCC Plaza a few hours before they were to ride as guests of honor in the Grand Parade. The Nisei Week Festival Marching Band performed John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” under the direction of Ron Logan, who produces live entertainment for Disney.
ABC 7 news anchor and reporter David Ono served as emcee. “This is your day,” he told the vets.
“We are celebrating the signing of Senate Bill 1055, signed by President Obama on Oct. 5, 2010,” he explained. “This bill authorizes the granting of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service, United States Army, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. It’s long overdue, we all know that, but we’re so glad that it’s happening.”
The medal ceremony is expected to be held in Washington, D.C. later this year, but the details will require agreement between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Rev. Mark Nakagawa, president of the Nisei Week Foundation, recalled, “Earlier this year when we … heard of the predicament that Go For Broke and other veterans’ organizations were in — the very delicate issue about wanting do something around S. 1055 without making folks over on the other coast too mad — we at Nisei Week felt that we were in a position to step in and do something.
“Since every year during our parade the veterans are part of it anyway, we saw this as an opportunity to just do the right thing, quite frankly, and that is to make a way that enables the veterans’ organizations here in Southern California to honor all of our veterans before it’s too late. God knows there are enough veterans who are no longer with us … That’s why we are here today.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Rodney Kobayashi was the guest speaker. Ono noted that Kobayashi’s record includes service in the Vietnam War as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the Hilo native has also served as company commander of the 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry at Fort DeRussy in Honolulu.
“This is the first time in history that the Congressional Gold Medal recognizes three military units,” Kobayashi stated. “The Congressional Gold Medal … is the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress to express the nation’s appreciation for distinguished service and contributions. The first Congressional Gold Medal was presented by Congress to Gen. George Washington and John Paul Jones. The Congressional Gold Medal is completely separate from the Medal of Honor … but both medals are awarded by Congress.”
To illustrate the “courage, selfless service, loyalty and extreme professionalism” of the Nisei soldiers, Kobayashi recounted the actions of one man from each unit:
• S/Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda, of Company H, 442nd RCT, made his way through heavy enemy fire near Bruyeres, France, to destroy a machine-gun nest. He tried to rescue an officer who had been struck by hostile fire on an adjacent hill, but found that the man was dead. Kuroda picked up the officer’s submachine gun, advanced through continuous fire toward a second machine-gun emplacement, and destroyed the position. As he turned to fire upon additional enemy soldiers, he was killed by a sniper. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
• Sgt. Hoichi “Bob” Kubo took part in the invasion of Saipan as a member of the MIS. He and other bilingual Nisei bravely entered caves in hopes of forcing enemy soldiers to surrender and free their civilian captives. Kubo’s successful attempts saved the lives of more than 100 women and children. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.
• Pvt. Joe Hayashi of K Company, 100th Battalion, single-handedly charged and destroyed a German machine-gun nest in Italy, allowing many of his fellow soldiers to continue their advance and saving many lives at the cost of his own. He is also a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient.
“These are just three of the many members of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service,” Kobayashi said. “There are many more — fathers, brothers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles and neighbors — each with similar stories.”
Asking the vets to stand, or to raise their hands if they could not stand, Kobayashi told them, “I will not be joining you at the parade. However, I wanted to be here today especially to thank you … You have set an example for me and for the United States Army and for all American citizens to follow … You are my heroes.”
Kobayashi presented a commemorative copy of S. 1055 to each unit. Accepting were Mas Takahashi of C Company, 100th Battalion, who fought in the Gothic Line campaign; Don Seki of L Company, 442nd RCT, who helped to rescue the “Lost Battalion” and earned a Purple Heart; and MIS veteran Hitoshi Sameshima, who served in the war crimes trials in Yokohama. Special thanks went to philanthropist George Aratani, who was an MIS language instructor.
Ono urged everyone to watch for the vets in the parade and “cheer them on.”