Sharing Stories of Bravery

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki meets with Nisei veterans at the opening of the Congressional Gold Medal exhibition in Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — To share the inspiring story of the Japanese American veterans who fought for the U.S. during World War II, National Veterans Network (NVN), a coalition of veteran and civic organizations committed to preserving the legacy of this brave group of Americans, has teamed with the Oregon Nikkei Endowment (ONE) and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center to provide the opportunity for online “story sharing” about an all too often forgotten chapter in U.S. history.

As part of a broader educational initiative organized by NVN and the Smithsonian, which includes a seven-city tour of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded in 2011 to Nisei World War II veterans in recognition of their extraordinary accomplishments, NVN is now using social media and interactive tools to reach out to future generations with the veterans’ legacy story.

In concert with the Aug. 24 opening of the CGM tour in Portland at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS), and the “Our Humble Heroes: Stories of Service and Sacrifice during WWII” at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, NVN will enable residents of the Pacific Northwest area to learn more about the individual veterans and their unique stories via the exhibit website at http://cgm.si.edu.

The Congressional Gold Medal exhibit opening was attended by Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki (whose uncle served in the 100th Infantry Battalion) and a number of veterans from the Portland, greater Oregon and Washington areas.

The online complement to the physical exhibit experience will allow veterans, their families and the community to share and exchange their personal remembrances, along with the stories of the 100th, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service. 

The website and social pages will also provide additional information about the CGM tour, along with ONE’s “Our Humble Heroes” exhibit. NVN’s social media presence will extend to its website, Facebook, and Twitter – each channel will focus on the different character themes that mirror the veterans’ stories, the CGM historical context and other contemporary learning opportunities. Additionally, the mobile version of the cgm.si.edu site will now be available so that smart phone/tablet users can more easily share their stories.  

Later this year, NVN and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center will roll out an interactive educational program that will target elementary through high school classrooms to promote character development, using an interactive website/application, and focused on the six character values – courage, compassion, humility, perseverance, respect and citizenship – inspired by the Japanese Americans who fought with valor on the battlefields of Europe and Asia.

The pilot for the curriculum was launched in May in the Torrance Unified School District and will eventually be available for Pacific Northwest schools. The education team at ONE has also developed an enhanced lesson based on the NVN/Smithsonian curriculum for younger students to learn the character values – which were, in part, inspired by the profile of veteran Jimmie Kanaya, originally from Oregon – that will be embedded into education curriculum program.

“These brave soldiers were the essence of what America is all about – they sacrificed their lives for their country despite suffering from extreme intolerance back at home,” said Christine Sato-Yamazaki, NVN chairperson. “This story is as vibrant today as it was nearly seven decades ago. We’re pleased to extend online social media sharing and learning capabilities surrounding this important topic for present and future generations.”

The “American Heroes” Congressional Gold Medal exhibit will be featured at the OHS until Sept. 29. It is presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and NVN.

Cole Chemical is the lead sponsor for the national tour of “American Heroes,” which has been to New Orleans, Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco and will go to Chicago and Houston later this year. Additional support is provided by AARP, Comcast/NBC Universal, the Japanese American Veterans Association, Pritzker Military Library, the Shiratsuki family, Southwest Airlines, and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund.

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 100th, 442nd and MIS veterans by Congress on Nov. 2, 2011, in recognition of their exceptional service, sacrifice and loyalty to America. It represents Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.  Commonly known as the “Go For Broke” regiments, the 100th/442nd is one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history, having earned more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars, seven Presidential Unit Citations, and 21 Medals of Honor.

The Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center will feature “Our Humble Heroes” until Jan. 5, 2014. From the attack on Pearl Harbor to the final occupation of Japan, this exhibit traces the journey of 100th/442nd and MIS. Along the way, Nisei also served in other U.S. Army units such as the Women’s Army Corps or aided the war effort as civilians. On the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, in the internment and training camps here on the home front, these courageous men and women fought against suspicion and intolerance to gain the trust and respect of the nation. These are their stories.

The Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center is located at 121 NW 2nd Ave. in downtown Portland. Exhibit hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 3 p.m. Admission is $5 general, free for Friends of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment. For more information, visit www.oregonnikkei.org.    

To learn more about the educational module, visit http://cgm.si.edu and www.nationalveteransnetwork.com. For details and museum hours for the “American Heroes” exhibit, visit http://www.ohs.org/.

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