By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — The presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday to the Nisei units of World War II was an emotional experience for all concerned — members of Congress as well as veterans and their families.
As everyone mingled after the ceremony, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) commented, “This was such a touching ceremony recognizing heroism that they displayed so many years ago … There’s a whole group that came from Hawaii with their adult children and their grandchildren. It shows that the generations are so proud and honored by their service.”
Hirono will also be participating in a ceremony for the Nisei veterans in Hawaii.
Regarding her campaign for the Senate in 2012, Hirono said, “I’m working hard, and my Senate campaign is my ‘Go For Broke’ race. I have many of my friends who are veterans saying to me ‘Okay, you go, Mazie.’ ”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, remarked, “It was very moving and long overdue. I’m glad that we were able to do it now while we have veterans still here who can hear about how much appreciation America has for what they did for our country.”
Kuwashi Edward Iwataki, a 442nd veteran from Los Angeles, said with a smile, “I feel like an honorable person now. I met several generals (during the week’s ceremonies). I feel like I did something for the country.”
His daughter, Miya Iwataki, who was a leader in the redress movement, added, “I think this is a long time coming and I’m really happy for and proud of my dad. I think that this Congressional Gold Medal ceremony has really opened up our fathers to talk to us a little bit more about their experiences … I didn’t know he was (involved in the rescue of) the Texas Lost Battalion. Many of us Sansei are really understanding the heroism of the Nisei at that time.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), who introduced the Congressional Gold Medal bill and spoke at the ceremony, said, “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to get to know some of the veterans over the last two years. What an incredible group of people, so courageous, so steadfast and so humble. They’re just an inspiring group.”
While gathering co-sponsors, he said, “it was a treat to talk to my House colleagues on the House floor and let them know about the bill and ask for their support. Of course, a great many were aware of the 100th/442nd and MIS, and others learned about them for the first time, which was also a nice byproduct of the bill. It helps educate the public as well as some of the members.”
Gail Sueki of San Jose, a member of the JACL National Board, was representing her father, Thomas T. Sueki, who served in the 442nd. She said, “It’s so nice to just be with the veterans … I think they’re kind of nonchalant about it (but) I hope that they understand how much we’re appreciative of them.”
Mas Hongo of San Mateo, who grew up in Hawaii, attended college in Sacramento, and served in the MIS, visited the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism during his stay “because my classmates, five of them, never came back. In Hilo High School there was about 500 students … maybe three quarters of them you know by name.”
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), himself a World War II veteran, greeted many of the honorees, including 94-year-old Robert Sato, an original member of the 100th. He was accompanied by his daughter, Pauline Sato.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), whose father served with the MIS, chatted with MIS veteran Iwao Lewis Suzuki of Berkeley, a noted artist and peace activist, and his daughter, Fumi Suzuki.
Suzuki’s story is a unique one. Educated in Japan, he left to avoid military service after hearing of the Rape of Nanking. He worked for the Japanese Embassy in Washington and was there when the U.S. declared war on Japan. He remembered Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura gathering the staff and saying that he and they had failed in their mission to maintain peace between the two countries.
Although he had the option of returning to Japan with his colleagues, he decided to remain in the U.S. and ended up at the MIS Language School at Camp Savage in Minnesota. In 1948, he saw first-hand the devastation caused by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. As an anti-nuclear and anti-war activist, he created an iconic “No More Hiroshimas” poster.
Suzuki, 91, had an opportunity to visit the Japanese Embassy during his stay and meet with the current ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki. He was accompanied on his trip by his daughter, Fumi Suzuki, and grandson, Sequoya Daniels.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) said, “Especially for AJAs (Americans of Japanese ancestry), it’s an extremely moving experience. We also have to remember under what conditions they fought, especially for those who had families in internment camps. Not being able to even fight (because they were ineligible to serve), to have to fight for the right to fight, is really something …
“It makes you wonder as a Japanese American. I’m Yonsei, fourth generation, and I just question myself as to whether we’re made out of the same stuff they were. It’s just phenomenal to see this generation and to see what they did … You don’t know whether to just be in complete awe, to cry, what the right emotion is. But it is truly something that makes you proud, to be able to by association claim that.”
When members of the 100th/442nd were presented with the Medal of Honor, Hanabusa was honored to give the keynote speech at the Punchbowl military cemetery despite not having any family members who served with that unit. “I learned subsequently that one of my uncles may have served in the MIS, but he’s passed away now so we’re trying to confirm that. But it was an invitation that I’ll never forget, and the ability to give that speech was something.”
Also greeting the honorees were Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Sandra Tanamachi of Texas represented four uncles, including Saburo Tanamachi, who was killed in the rescue of the Lost Battalion. One uncle is still living but was not well enough to attend.
“It’s really an honor to see so many wonderful veterans. I’m so happy they’re being honored now,” she said.