Seventy-four years ago, on July 15, 1946, at 12 noon, President Harry Truman reviewed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at the Ellipse of the White House, following its march down Constitution Avenue, and decorated its colors with its seventh Presidential Unit Citation.
The Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) commemorated the 1946 ceremony on July 15, at 12 noon, by laying a wreath at the Price of Freedom Wall, National World War II Memorial, in Washington, D.C. in honor of the Nisei soldiers who served in World War II.
The review by President Truman was a historic event because the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was a segregated, all Japanese American combat unit, except for its officers. Over its short history, the 442nd created a combat record that is unmatched.
The 442nd was activated in 1943, while 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps. Volunteers from these camps and Japanese Americans from Hawaii answered the call to form the 442nd RCT in 1943.
For those who joined the 442nd while imprisoned in the WRA camps, the 442nd was their opportunity to fight prejudice at home. The federal government’s harsh treatment and overt prejudice against them would not diminish their belief in the American dream that brought their immigrant parents to this country.
President Truman praised the Nisei soldiers by stating: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice –and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win – to make this great republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time.”
In his opening remarks at the Ceremonial Plaza, JAVA President Gerald Yamada said, “In his salute, President Truman honored the 442nd RCT’s valor in fighting America’s enemies abroad. More importantly, he congratulated them on winning their fight against prejudice at home.
“In doing so, President Truman affirmed that the soldiers standing before him were loyal Americans, thereby removing the stigma of being treated as ‘non-aliens,’
“He affirmed that their decision — to put country first — was the way to win the fight against prejudice.
“And he affirmed that they were entitled to share in America’s opportunities and to receive equal treatment under the Constitution.
“President Truman’s salute was the critical turning point for Japanese Americans. It marks the decisive point that Japanese Americans, by keeping their faith in America, started winning the war against prejudice. This is why we call today – July 15 — the Day of Affirmation.”
The legacy embodied in President Truman’s salute was credited by Yamada to not only the 442nd RCT but also to:
• The 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawaii, which was activated in 1942 and fought in Italy for nine months, creating its own exemplary combat record, before being attached to the 442nd RCT in 1944.
• The Military Intelligence Service, which provided linguistic support to American and Allied forces in the Pacific war zone.
• The1399th Engineering Construction Battalion, which served in Hawaii to rebuild Pearl Harbor and completed 54 construction projects that were critical to the defense of the Islands against further Japanese invasion.
Yamada also included the Japanese American women who volunteered to serve in the U.S. military as a part of the legacy.
He concluded by saying, “They all helped to forge the legacy from which Japanese Americans started to benefit and will continue to benefit in the future,” and he called “on all Americans to embrace their legacy — by keeping faith in America’s values and its future — especially in the most difficult of times, as did the Nisei soldiers.”
Following the opening remarks, LTC Brett Egusa (USAR) carried the wreath with a ribbon inscribed with “In Honor of the World War II Nisei Soldiers” from the Ceremonial Plaza to the Price of Freedom Wall. Each gold star on the Freedom Wall represents 100 U.S. soldiers killed in action during World War II. Eight of these stars are dedicated to the almost 800 Japanese Americans who were killed in action and the over 30 officers who served in the 442nd RCT and who were killed in action.
Catherine Luette, daughter of Maj. Orville Shirey, who served with the 442nd RCT, and Turner Kobayashi, son of Key Kobayashi, who served with the Military Intelligence Service, accompanied the wreath.
When the wreath was set in place, each of the wreath bearers touched the wreath before taking their place facing the Freedom Wall. Everyone was asked to face the Freedom Wall, bow their heads, and observe a moment of silence. The moment of silence ended when Yamada stated: “For those who served, thank you for your service.”
The sounding of “Taps” by a U.S. Army bugler followed, which concluded the Day of Affirmation program.
In support of the Day of Affirmation, the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance held a floral tribute three hours later on the same day at the Japanese American War Memorial Court in Los Angeles at 12 noon (Pacific Coast time). Interested persons can watch the JAVA ceremony by going to the JAVA website at JAVA-US.org and clicking on the Day of Affirmation webpage.