By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Before he was a soldier fighting for his country, Sadao Munemori was a typical all-American kid with a broad, winning smile. His smile and his heroism will be forever memorialized with the dedication of a monument at his alma mater, Lincoln High School, on Thursday.
The ceremony took place as part of the school’s sixth annual Veterans Day ceremony. Dozens of veterans wearing military caps attended the ceremony, including two Nisei veterans Don Seki and Yosh Nakamura of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
As a student, Munemori walked the brick courtyard of the quad where a black granite memorial now chronicles his acts of heroism. Originally a member of the Military Intelligence Service, Munemori transferred to the 100th Infantry Battalion in 1944, where he saw combat in Italy and France and participated in the rescue of the Lost Battalion.
On April 5, 1945, he saved the lives of two of his men as they approached an enemy mountain defense under heavy fire in Seravezza, Italy. The private first class, nicknamed “Spud” for his love of potatoes, jumped on an unexploded grenade, smothering the blast with his body. He died instantly at the age of 23 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Bill Seki, board member of the Go For Broke National Education Center, spoke in universal terms to the students in the audience of the school auditorium about the story of what happened to young Japanese Americans like Munemori during World War II. He asked them to think of how it would feel to be a young person at a time when the country treated you as an enemy and placed your family behind barbed wire in internment camps.
“Today with this ceremony, with the monument and memorial outside, Sadao Munemori’s heroism will forever be remembered in a place that he loved: his high school and in the neighborhood where he grew up,” said Seki. “He is appreciated by a community that is forever grateful to him and his family for his sacrifice.”
Marco Robles, a Marine Corps veteran and president of the Lincoln High School Alumni Association, served as emcee. He explained that in 2014 the alumni association made a promise to Munemori’s niece Janet Nakakihara to build a monument to her uncle.
“Well, Janet we went a bit further than we promised. We’re grateful for your uncle’s deeds. He is a wonderful example to all of us,” Robles said.
The alumni association worked in conjunction with Carl Miyagishima of American Legion Sadao Munemori Post 321 on the monument. They received support from the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council, Councilmember Gil Cedillo and AARP. Ken Hayashi and the Japanese American National War Memorial Court Alliance also helped raise funds in July at the Stonebridge Rhythm and Blues Fest in Redondo Beach.
The culmination of their efforts came as Miyagishima and Seki removed the heavy blue cloth covering the monument to the cheers of the hundreds gathered for the dedication.
Munemori’s niece walked towards the monument and gently placed a hand on the edge of shiny granite, reading the inscription to her uncle. The marble is inscribed with two photos of the young Nisei: one in a suit and tie, the other in his Army uniform, in both he is smiling. That is how Nakakihara remembers her uncle. She last saw him when she was seven.
“That’s how he was, he was a fun-loving person. He played paper dolls with me and he liked football, so he made football uniforms for my paper dolls,” Nakakihara recalled. “I wish my grandmother were here, she would have been so proud of him.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo