POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 7, 2010
It was 65 years coming, but it was not too late to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal to 6,000 Japanese-Americans who fought against America's enemies abroad during World War II. Members of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which later absorbed the 100th, belonged to the most decorated military unit in U.S. history. Nonetheless, the highest collective award by Congress was long overdue.
President Barack Obama signed into law the legislation granting the honor this week, with Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself the recipient of the Medal of Honor, at the president's shoulder.
"We were humbled, proud and pleased that the contributions and sacrifices we made in defense of our great nation were recognized," Inouye said. "I am very grateful to this nation for remembering us."
The gratitude is America's toward those who were looked upon with suspicion and distrust before the War Department, which had rejected Americans of Japanese ancestry from the military ranks, relented. It put out a call for 2,500 volunteers in 1942. Five times that many responded, including a third of all men of Japanese ancestry and military age in Hawaii.
Time was running out to give the elderly survivors of the war proper recognition. Inouye, who lost his right arm fighting in Italy, estimates that only a third of the survivors are still alive, and the youngest are in their mid-80s.
The slogan "Go for Broke" propelled members of the units to courageous actions that have been recognized by seven Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 22 Legion of Merit Medals, 15 Soldier's Medals and more than 4,000 Purple Hearts.
"We didn't fight for the glory of it," recalled Robert Takeshige, 94. "We didn't even expect to get a medal. We just did what we were supposed to do."
The honorees rightfully include Japanese-Americans who served as translators and interpreters directed against Japan. One was the late Harold Fudenna, whose interception of a Japanese message enabled the 1943 downing of a plane flown by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto to inspect his troops. Yamamoto had orchestrated the attack on Pearl Harbor two years earlier.
The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry today is the only remaining infantry battalion in the Army Reserve. The unit has made two deployments to Iraq and Kuwait and will "Go for Broke" on their next war-zone deployment with 50 women who joined the battalion last month at its headquarters in Fort Shafter Flats. Men and women soldiers together can take pride in and be inspired by the battalion's Statue of Liberty flame on their sleeves.