WASHINGTON — Vincent Okamoto, Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and one of the most highly decorated Japanese Americans in the Vietnam War, visited Washington, D.C., during the Oct. 15 weekend.
He was accompanied by Ken Hayashi, president of the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Association.
In his keynote address at a Japanese American Veterans Asssociation (JAVA) luncheon on Oct. 15 at the Harvest Moon Restaurant in Falls Church, Va., Okamoto remarked on what the Congressional Gold Medal that will be awarded to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service means to him, the youngest of seven brothers who served in World War II and the Korean War.
Referring to his World War II brethren as his role models and paying them the highest tribute on the eve of the Congressional Gold Medal Award program, Okamoto remarked, “What the 100th, 442nd, and MIS did bequeathed to this nation ideals that unite all of us as Americans. What they endured speaks to the values that sustain us during times of trial and crisis. What they achieved speaks to the dreams that inspire ordinary people to perform extraordinary acts of courage and self-sacrifice.
“They speak to us of the value of loyalty, courage, fundamental fairness and personal dignity and (this) is a testament to the glory of the human spirit. This is the legacy of what the Nisei veterans passed on to us. This is our inheritance.”
Congress will present the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the nation can bestow, to the 100th, 442nd and MIS at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 2.
Okamoto recalled, “After 10 months in combat, having been wounded several times, I was physically exhausted, afraid and sick at heart. I wanted to just give up and quit. But when I began to feel sorry for myself, I remembered that during World War II and the Korean War, other young Japanese American soldiers had it just as tough and tougher than me. And they never gave up. They never quit.
“Their example of courage and commitment gave me the strength to do what needed to be done because I felt I could not betray that standard. So to the Nisei veterans who inspired me with their courage and honored me with their friendship, I say thank you.”
Okamoto was the first post-World War II Japanese American veteran to be inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame, which is for those who have served with distinction in an Army Ranger unit and, after leaving the armed forces, have served in a government position or displayed leadership in the private sector.
A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and Purple Heart, Okamoto also worked for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, was the founding chairman of Pacific Heritage Bank, and served on the Gardena City Council in addition to his service as a judge. He is also the author of a book, “Wolfhound Samurai.”
Okamoto and Hayashi met with Washington officials, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, and, among other things, discussed the impact on their lives of the Congressional Gold Medal award to the World War II Nisei.
The visitors were received by Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki to renew acquaintances and to discuss Japanese American matters. They were also taken on a Pentagon tour by retired Col. Bruce Hollywood, U.S. Air Force, an official at the Pentagon.
Okamoto and Hayashi were given a tour of the rarely shown historic rooms of the Library of Congress by Jeff Lofton, a staff officer of the library’s Veterans History Project, as well as the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism.
Grant Ichikawa, JAVA board member, was the main organizer of the visit.
On the Web: www.javadc.org