By J.K. YAMAMOTO , Rafu Staff Writer
KABC news anchor David Ono has not been resting on his laurels since his last appearance at the Go For Broke National Education Center’s Evening of Aloha.
At the 2011 gala, held shortly after the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington, D.C., Ono showed his documentary “Witness: American Heroes,” in which he not only interviewed veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team but also visited sites in Italy and France where the Nisei soldiers fought their toughest battles.
The documentary has won a number of honors over the past year, but between awards ceremonies Ono has been working on a follow-up that focuses on Nisei recipients of the Medal of Honor, and he plans to show it at this year’s Evening of Aloha, to be held Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.
Response to “American Heroes” has been “extremely positive,” Ono said. “Since the minute we ran it at the event and ran it on TV, I’ve gotten so many requests from people wanting copies, (including) a lot of teachers who wanted to show it to their classes. A lot of veterans’ groups have asked me for a copy. I try to get it out to as many people as possible, especially if they have a cause.”
One of the more rewarding experiences was presenting the documentary at the federal courthouse downtown to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. “It was standing room only, filled to the brim with judges and attorneys. So many people showed up. It was a really positive event.” The documentary has also traveled to San Francisco and Hawaii.
In terms of awards, “we had a really good year with this piece,” Ono observed. “American Heroes” won the Edward R. Murrow Award for best video news documentary in Region 2 (California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada) from the Radio Television Digital News Association; an AAJA (Asian American Journalists Association) National Journalism Award in the Asian American and Pacific Islander issues category; and a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award.
The Emmy ceremony was a milestone for Ono, who was nominated for six awards and won three. In addition to the statuette for best arts and culture/history piece, he received one for writing “American Heroes” and another for his body of work as a hard-news reporter. Although he was previously honored for his coverage of the Tohoku tsunami and an interview with President Obama, he said, “Three is the most I’ve won at one time” and added that it was “pretty awesome” because many people get multiple nominations but leave empty-handed.
Since Ono had also committed to hosting the Nisei Week Queen Coronation the same evening, he left early and didn’t know he won a third award. “I assumed, since nobody called to tell me, that I didn’t win … Then somebody congratulated me on the phone Sunday afternoon … That was a pleasant surprise.”
The Medal of Honor story is one that Ono wanted to tell last year but had to omit due to time constraints — the documentary was limited to less than 25 minutes because of commercials.
During World War II, the only Nisei soldier who received the Medal of Honor was Pfc. Sadao Munemori, who sacrificed his life to save his comrades from a grenade. The Army later reviewed the medals that were given to Japanese Americans and upgraded 20 of them to Medals of Honor, which were presented by President Bill Clinton in 2000. One of the recipients was Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who lost an arm in battle.
“The chapter on Medal of Honor winners is a very important chapter when it comes to the 442nd,” Ono said. “(GFBNEC Executive Director) Don Nose and I met earlier this year, and we want to make a real focus on this.”
The new piece will include some footage shot in Europe last year, “but we will also bring in a lot of local touches,” Ono said. “Four Medal of Honor winners lie within 12 feet of each other at Evergreen Cemetery … The recipients had family in internment camps. All four killed, all from Southern California. It’s a real local story, but with their smaller story we get the bigger story of the Medal of Honor.”
Ono noted that Robert Horsting of Go For Broke has been trying for years to get the City of Glendale, Munemori’s hometown, to recognize the fallen soldier with a statue. “The irony of that is there’s a statue of him in Italy near where they attacked the Gothic Line, so the Italians put up a statue of him but his hometown won’t.”
An interview that Ono did with Medal of Honor recipient George Sakato a decade ago will be included. Although Sakato, now 91, lives in Colorado, there is a local angle — he graduated from Redlands High School and grew up in the Inland Empire. He was one of the special guests at the Congressional Gold Medal events.
Ono, who is still putting the piece together, said it is tentatively scheduled for broadcast on Veterans Day. It doesn’t have a title yet.
During the gala, Ono also wants to publicize Patti Hirahara’s collection of photographs from the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming. “Her grandfather built a darkroom underneath the barracks. She has thousands of photos of life throughout the few years they lived at Heart Mountain. She wanted to get the word out that they have these photos … They’re setting up a website.”
Pointing out that the majority of Heart Mountain internees were from Southern California, Ono said he plans to produce a documentary about the photos that will be aired next May to observe Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. “We haven’t even started on it, but Evening of Aloha would be a great opportunity to say … ‘Look at a few of these photos, put this in your brain so you can start thinking about this’ … We want to be there when they see it and get their reaction … It’s really a remarkable story about an individual family that has been able to create this opportunity.”
The gala will feature Vice Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and four-star Gen. David A. Bramlett (retired) as speakers, and entertainment by Grammy-winning songwriter Daniel Ho, Halau Keali’i O Nalani, and Taikoproject. For more information, call Ellen Robinson at (818) 242-9108, ext. 204, or visit www.goforbroke.com/eveningofaloha.