By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
The Military Intelligence Service Veterans Association of Southern California’s annual “Steakbake” event included an update on the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington, D.C. and a plea for vets to sign up for it as soon as possible.
The prime rib/chicken and bingo fundraiser was held Sunday at the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Center in Little Tokyo. The popular event has provided donations to the Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American National Museum and other nonprofits.
MIS SoCal President Hitoshi Sameshima gave welcoming remarks. The special guest was Rosalyn Tonai, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Japanese American Historical Society, who brought the latest news on the Congressional Gold Medal, which will be presented to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and MIS.
Tonai had just returned from a meeting with officials in Washington. Don Nose, president of the Go For Broke Education Center, and Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairperson of the National Veterans Network, also participated. MIS SoCal Secretary Cathy Tanaka “was supposed to be there with me, but they changed the dates on us,” Tonai said.
“I can’t tell you how excited people are in Washington, D.C.,” Tonai reported. “They have problems dealing with the deficit and the debt crisis but they have no problems with honoring the men of the 100th/442nd and MIS, and this really could bring the country together.”
However, there are “a lot of steps” remaining, she said. “They have to pass a concurrent resolution with the House and the Senate to officially award the medal to the veterans and pick the date, so that’s the crucial turning point that has to happen.”
She stressed the importance of not going public with a date “until it goes through the proper channels. So we have to check it off with Congress, the speaker of the House (John Boehner) … he makes that decision, they set the date and everything. So until that becomes official, we cannot officially announce that.”
The ceremony is expected to be held at the end of October or beginning of November, more than a year after President Obama signed the bill authorizing the medal presentation.
Regarding registration, Tonai said, “The absolute first priority is to get the veterans to go. So all the MIS guys, veterans of the 100th/442nd, that is the No. 1 priority, to get you there to Washington, D.C. … So make sure you register online with the coalition group, the National Veterans Network (www.nationalveteransnetwork.com).”
Each registrant has to provide “the number of people going, how you’re related, what period of time you served, what type of veteran you are … You have to be eligible,” Tonai explained.
In a memo distributed at the fundraiser, Tanaka said that veterans, widows and KIA family members who wish to attend must be registered by Aug. 8.
Registrants will receive an application for Honor Flight (www.honorflight.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving veterans, which will fly the Nisei vets to Washington for free. The goal is to allow aging veterans from all over the country to visit the National World War II Memorial and other monuments. The trips usually last only one day.
“They’re making an incredible exception … because of your record, because of the fact that you’re going to be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal,” Tonai told the veterans. “They’re allowing you to stay for those couple of days. It’s a three-day event. But you must come back on that fourth day. You cannot stay earlier or longer than the allotted time, three or four days for just the ceremonies …
“Also, Honor Flight will only pay for the veteran. They will not pay for the spouse or guardian … But you coordinate all that with Honor Flight so they can coordinate the airline reservations and all that.”
One requirement is that each veteran be accompanied by a guardian, Tonai said. “If you and your wife happen to be the same age, she will be ineligible as a guardian. You have to get someone younger. That’s in case something happens, if medical issues arise. That guardian can make decisions for you. You have to fill out this long form about all your medication, all your health conditions. They just want you to be safe and healthy and they want to provide you the best service to get there safely and back.”
Tanaka said that this requirement applies to veterans 83 and older.
According to Tonai, 3,813 people had already registered online, including 423 veterans, 149 widows, and kin of those killed in action. However, the capacity of the anticipated venue, Emancipation Hall, is only 1,200, and half of those seats are allotted for Congress.
“Every member of Congress has to be invited to the event … Also, they will invite President Obama,” Tonai explained. “So the awarding of medals will be done through representatives … They have three representatives of the 100th, 442nd and MIS that they voted on, and they’ll be representing the entire unit.”
Replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal, which must be ordered in advance, will be presented at a banquet that evening.
The dress code for the ceremony is business attire, Tonai said. “There’s a certain protocol that they want, because they want you to be identified especially if there’s a lot of press there. They want your caps on and things like that. It may be cold, so be prepared to wear warm jackets. No aloha shirts.”
Each veteran can be accompanied by only one person at the ceremony, Tonai said. “The rest of us will be watching from a direct live feed that the Army’s going to be providing at the hotel. Then at the banquet we’re hoping that we can all be there together when you actually get the medals.”
Events at the National World War II Memorial and the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism are also planned.
“What’s very exciting is that the reserves from the 100th Battalion in Hawaii, about 150 of them, will be there on hand to help us,” Tonai added.
“I think this is the largest gathering of Japanese Americans (in Washington) in a long time, since redress,” she said, referring to President Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Civil Liberties Act on Aug. 10, 1988.