On Nov. 14, Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) presented a livestream broadcast of its 19th annual Evening of Aloha Virtual Gala (EOA).
David Ono, ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor and member of the GFBNEC Board of Directors, and Mitchell Maki, GFBNEC’s president and CEO, were the live co-hosts for this signature event that celebrates and honors the legacy of the World War II American soldiers of Japanese ancestry.
Close to 10,000 viewers from across the nation viewed the gala on the GFBNEC website, Facebook and YouTube. In addition, ABC7 featured the livestream broadcast off the network’s website to its viewers.
“While we were unable to meet in-person, it was important that this year’s gala honored our Nisei veterans with the same EOA traditions of community, family and sharing of stories,” said the gala co-chairs, Staci Toji, founder of Toji Law and member of the GFBNEC Board of Directors, and Cathy Tanaka, funeral director of Fukui Mortuary and member of the GFBNEC Circle of Ambassadors. “Our hope is that each of you will walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the remarkable Nisei veteran stories of courage, patriotism and sacrifice.”
The gala pre-show featured 25 “Thank a Veteran” digital ads with tribute messages to Nisei veterans from family members and friends. The pre-show also included another EOA tradition of featuring 12 high school and college student winners of the GFBNEC Student Essay & Poetry Contest.
In his opening remarks, Ono pointed out how GFBNEC has “successfully faced this year’s unprecedented challenges by creating new opportunities.” He further assured that “there is one thing that will never change — our commitment to tell the story of the Japanese American veterans of World War II.”
The gala began with the traditional EOA posting of the colors by the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Color Guard from Hawai’i followed by the national anthem sung by Lauren Kinkade-Wong. Another traditional EOA element is the “In Memoriam” listing of the names of the Nisei veterans who had passed since last year’s gala accompanied by a hula performance of “Aloha ‘Oe” by Toji and musicians Wayne Inouye and Brian Yamamoto.
In order to replicate the veteran on-stage recognition and one of EOA’s most treasured moments, this year’s virtual gala featured the first virtual “Living Nisei WWII Veteran Photo Tribute.” In collaboration with Nisei veteran organizations from across the country, the tribute presented an in-service military and current photo of 88 living Nisei veterans from ten states, ranging from ages 90 to 104. Each veteran was presented individually first and then all of the photos came together in a unique mosaic that ultimately formed over an image of the Go For Broke Monument.
MUFG Union Bank Executive Chairman Kazuo Koshi introduced the first Photo Tribute segment, to which he added, “The mission of Go For Broke National Education Center is to educate and inspire character and equality. I cannot think of anything more noble and necessary today. MUFG Union Bank is delighted to be a Ruby sponsor of this event.”
The second segment was introduced by Gen. David Bramlett, U.S. Army (retired), who reminded us all that the “photos we are going to see tonight remind us that those units were composed of individuals. Look at those youthful faces of those men and remember they did those things individually and collectively.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta presented the third and final segment with these poignant remarks: “Over 75 years ago, these brave young Nisei, without hesitation, were determined to prove their loyalty and to fight for equality. As a young boy incarcerated at that time, I experienced what it meant to be denied our civil liberties. As a congressman in the 1980s, I know that redress was made possible because of their legacy. I thank each of our veterans for their service to our country.”
In keeping with its continued partnerships and collaborations, celebratory comments were given by GFBNEC’s partners: Karl Okemoto, 442nd Veterans Club, Honolulu; Cindy Kondo, Executive Board member, National Veterans Heritage Foundation, Denver; Michael Takada, CEO, Japanese American Service Committee, Chicago; and Gene Kanamori, president and CEO, Keiro, Los Angeles.
In addressing GFBNEC’s biggest challenge of making a 75-year-old story relevant to younger generations, Maki presented clips of the organization’s current and upcoming programming and outreach. “We prioritized connecting with our younger audience in traditional and not so traditional ways. Our new series, ‘Living the Nisei Dream,’ highlights young people who are pursuing opportunities that our Nisei didn’t think was possible.”
The series is hosted by Sierra Katow, a rising entertainer and writer from La Cañada, who remarked, “I’m half JA… I always wanted to know more about my JA side. My grandfather was in the 442nd, but I don’t know much about it, so the opportunity to work with Go For Broke was the opportunity I needed.”
The second new series, “Sharing Stories Around the Table,” features intergenerational conversations about the Nisei legacy, what it means to be American and the sharing of family stories.
The third new series, “Heroes Among Us: Stories of Courage, Patriotism & Sacrifice,” incorporates GFBNEC’s Hanashi Oral History Collection, archival photos and more in-depth, personal stories of WWII.
Beginning in 2021, GFBNEC will launch the three series online and share the meaning and significance of the Nisei veteran legacy to its expanding virtual audience.
In addition to programming, GFBNEC continues its collaborations with Japangeles, a Little Tokyo-based apparel company, and, most recently, with Bay Area designer Akashi-Kama, with an exclusive line of tees and hoodies that honor the character and valor of the Nisei veterans.
During the final portion of the gala, Maki reviewed with Ono his recent “FACEism” segment that aired during the week of Veterans Day. The segment focused on Nisei veteran Lawson Sakai’s 2019 visit to Bruyères, France. Each year the citizens in this region recognize and honor the heroic efforts of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought for their liberation from German occupation.
Ono explained that “FACEism” was developed to put “more attention on stereotyping and how quickly people are judged based on the color of their skin. The Nisei know that first-hand and there is no better example than that.” Moreover, he added that the “series covers a lot of different ethnicities and chapters in history… but I love the fact that it allows me to put the focus again on the Japanese American community and allowed me to tell these bigger stories.”
Another project that Ono and GFBNEC will be working on will be the “Nisei WWII Letters Project,” a collection of copies of letters written by Nisei soldiers during the war. Through these letters, Ono hopes to put together a documentary that captures these additional perspectives and stories. To contribute letters to the project, email [email protected]
In closing, Maki gave final acknowledgement to the gala sponsors and supporters that contributed to the success of this year’s fundraiser. Major sponsors include Diamond Sponsor, Aratani Foundation; Ruby Sponsor, MUFG Union Bank, N.A.; and Emerald Sponsor, The Pacific Bridge Companies. Additional support is still needed for the “Fund the Future” year-end campaign, which provides vital funding to keep the Nisei veteran story alive for the next generations. Gifts can be made on GFBNEC’s website.
The gala can still be viewed on www.goforbroke.org and on GFBNEC’s Facebook and YouTube. The full segment of the 88 Living Nisei WWII Veteran Photo Tribute can also be found on GFBNEC’s YouTube channel.