SACRAMENTO — Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) and community partners hosted a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring surviving Japanese American veterans who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service during World War II, who were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in late 2011.
Matsui presented each of these veterans with an official replica of the Congressional Gold Medal. The Sacramento event, held May 26 at the Secretary of State’s Courtyard at the California Museum, honored veterans of these units who were unable to make it to the main event in Washington, D.C. this past November. It was hosted in partnership with the Sacramento and Florin JACL chapters and the Asian Community Center of Sacramento.
News10 anchor Sharon Ito served as master of ceremonies. The presentation of colors was conducted by the California National Guard Color Guard, the national anthem was sung by C.K. McClatchy High School student and musical theater performer Kendyl Ito, and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Boy Scout Troops 50 and 250.
A history of the 442nd, 100th and MIS was given by Dr. Isao Fujimoto, senior lecturer emeritus at the UC Davis Graduate Program in Community Development.
“Our families and communities provide guidelines for living,” he said. “For many in the audience who grew up in Japanese immigrant communities, we can remember some of these. One, work hard, give it all you got whether on the farm, in school or taking on any responsibility given you. Two, act in ways that bring honor to your family and community. And three, don’t brag. The people we are honoring today exemplify these ways to behave.”
After describing the Nisei soldiers’ bravery in battle, Fujimoto credited them with helping Hawaii to achieve statehood in 1959. “There was hesitancy about admitting Hawaii as a state. This was a territory where the minorities were the majority … Any doubts about the trustworthiness of its residents were demolished by the accomplishments of the 442nd.”
He concluded, “To the Japanese American World War II veterans, whose deeds made their units the most decorated of their size in U.S. military history — for bringing honor to the Japanese American community and for redesigning the American flag, we are here today to honor and thank you.”
Rev. Peter Inokoji-Kim of Sacramento Buddhist Church led the gathering in a moment of silence for veterans who have passed away.
A total of 27 veterans were honored: two from the 100th, 11 from the 442nd, and 14 from the MIS.
Following are Matsui’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“Today is a day that is long overdue … The Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by Congress. It is the highest civilian award in the United States, awarded to individuals or units who perform an outstanding deed or act of service for the security and prosperity of the United States. Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
“Last November, I joined my colleagues in Congress for a special ceremony honoring Japanese American veterans of World War II. More than 800 veterans of these units were able to join us for that ceremony. But clearly some were missing. Hundreds of others across the nation were not able to make it.
“And others we will never be able to thank in person. So, I also want to recognize the spouses and family of those 100th, 442nd and MIS veterans who have passed away. I wish that this honor could have come sooner. Their service and sacrifice are no less important or honorable than those with us here today.
“It is with humility and admiration that I thank them and you for their service. Today, we are gathered to honor the service and sacrifice of all veterans and especially those that are with us today. We are here to say thank you.
“All of our veterans serve and sacrifice much, but these men sitting in front of us today did so in the face of unparalleled discrimination and prejudice — not only from a foreign enemy but from the country they love and served.
“World War II was a dark time. Many people were afraid … Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the war closer to home. In that fear our government made a historic and regrettable error.
“President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, designating the western United States a war zone and classifying American citizens of Japanese ancestry as enemy aliens. They were forced to relocate to internment camps in faraway desert locations, trampling on the United States Constitution and their civil rights in the name of national defense.
“As we know, these thousands of Americans, including my own family, lost their homes, farms and businesses. Suddenly they had nothing. And worse, they no longer had a country to call their own. Their dignity suffered a severe blow.
“But they lost even more than that. There is an intangible part of who we are. Sometimes we think about our lives as having possessions, but really what makes up our life are the things that can’t be replaced. That’s what was taken away. These families lost the future memories of the place they called home; the intricate fabric of their everyday life had been stripped away.
“These painful memories only highlight the war these men fought here at home and later abroad. That’s what made these men so special. In spite of losing everything, they volunteered.
“They were Americans, fighting enemies who were seeking to destroy the way of life they once knew. They fought in Europe and the South Pacific and worked in top-secret intelligence offices at home and across the globe.
“The 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, France, and Germany. The units became the most highly decorated in the history of the United States Armed Forces.
“These Japanese American soldiers fought with gallantry, above and beyond the call of duty in the face of mortal peril. Their motto, ‘Go For Broke,’ became a battle cry for the odds they were facing on every front.
“The Military Intelligence Service served here at home and in the South Pacific, translating captured enemy documents, interpreting radio communications, and interrogating captured enemies.
“These men were instrumental in deciphering and translating the ‘Z Plan,’ an important captured document that described Japanese plans for a counterattack in the Pacific. Because of the men of the MIS, tens of thousands of lives were saved and the Allied Forces were able to win the war in the Pacific.
“Clearly, these were extraordinary people who fought for all of us. But their stories live on. They are in our history books, in our classrooms and in museums like we have here at the California Museum.
“Most importantly, they live on in each of us. As long as we keep sharing their stories we can honor them, learn from them, know them.
“Today, we honor these men as they join a long lineage of notable Congressional Gold Medal recipients, including George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. George Marshall, the Navajo Code Talkers, and the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It is my proud honor to call all of these men heroes. Please join me to thank these men for their extraordinary service and sacrifice. They are true American patriots.”