POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 24, 2010
Congress has approved the award of its highest civilian honor, the Gold Medal, to Japanese-American veterans for their patriotic and valorous service with the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.
The office of U.S. Rep Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the House approved the Congressional Gold Medal award by voice vote yesterday.
"At a time when many of their fellow Americans questioned their loyalty to the United States, these Japanese-American soldiers enlisted and put their lives on the line to defend our freedom overseas while fighting against fear and discrimination at home," Hirono said on the House floor.
Hirono noted that the 442nd "Go for Broke" combat team became the most decorated in U.S. military history for its size and length of service, with its component unit, the 100th Battalion, earning the nickname "The Purple Heart Battalion."
In addition, about 6,000 nisei linguists that comprised the Military Intelligence Service "made vital contributions to our wartime success by conducting critical classified intelligence operations," Hirono said. "Only in recent years has their invaluable service come to light, and it is long past due for honoring and acknowledging their critical role during the war."
More than one-third of the linguists hailed from Hawaii.
The Senate approved the Gold Medal legislation in August. The recognition is on its way to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Ted Tsukiyama, 89, was part of a group of 25 MIS linguists who were sent to the China-Burma-India theater.
"To be Japanese (American) in those days, it was a very rough time," Tsukiyama said yesterday. The nisei soldiers were "called upon to show their loyalty, and they did," he said.
"I think it demonstrates that if you are an American, you don't have to be blond, blue-eyed and come from Northern European descent," Tsukiyama added. "To be American is like President (Franklin) Roosevelt said: It's a matter of mind and heart and not a matter of race or ancestry."
The nisei ranks are dwindling rapidly. Linguist Kazuo Yamane died April 28 in Honolulu at the age of 93.
Tsukiyama said of the Congressional Gold Medal approval now, "History takes a long time to unravel, I guess."
"What about all the other guys that did a lot for their country?" he added. "Everyone in World War II had a greater impact on their country because we were attacked."
The Continental Congress awarded the first Gold Medals to George Washington and John Paul Jones in 1776.
Other recipients have included the Tuskegee Airmen, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Navajo code talkers, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and Nelson Mandela.
The Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom and Presidential Citizens Medal are the highest civilian awards in the U.S.