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President signs bill honoring Nisei World War II vets

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 12:47 p.m. HST, Oct 5, 2010

With Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and other veterans of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team flanking him, President Barack Obama signed legislation today to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Battalion, the 442nd and the Military Intelligence Service.

The law recognizes more than 6,000 Japanese-Americans born of immigrant parents who served the United States and fought in battles in Europe and Asia during World War II. About two-thirds of them were from Hawaii.

Photos and information on the signing in the Oval Office were released this afternoon on the White House Blog.

Joining the veterans, who wore their blue and red overseas caps, were U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Charles Djou, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric "Ric" Shinseki, a former Kauai resident.

The veterans at the ceremony included Osamu "Sam" Fujikawa, who was interned with his family in Utah before being drafted and assigned to the 100th Battalion; Grant Ichikawa, who also was sent to a internment camp after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley. He enlisted in the Army an became a MIS interpreter; Jimmie Kanaya, who enlisted in the 442nd and later received a battlefield commission; and Yeiichi "Kelly" Kagawa, who as a 442nd medic is credited with saving Inouye's life.

Inouye lost his right arm while attacking a German machine gun emplacement in Italy.

In a statement issued last night, Sen. Daniel Akaka, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said "While some Japanese-Americans were being wrongly interned due only to their ethnicity, these brave men stepped forward to defend our nation. Their bravery helped to not only win the war, it paved the way toward a more tolerant and just nation."

The 442nd, made up of Americans of Japanese ancestry who volunteered, is the most decorated Army unit of its size and length of service in the history of the United States.

The Military Intelligence Service provided the U.S. with valuable language and cultural knowledge, translating intercepted intelligence and helping the U.S. achieve victory in the Pacific.

The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest civilian honors presented to people who serve the security and national interests of the United States. Past honorees of the Congressional Gold Medal include the Wright Brothers, Rosa Parks, Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Dalai Lama.

The 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team received 7 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 Medal, and over 4,000 Purple Hearts.

The actual gold medal will be given to the Smithsonian Institution. The new law authorizes the Treasury to make bronze duplicates of the medal.

The Congressional Gold Medal was first awarded by the U.S. Continental Congress to George Washington in 1776. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Presidential Citizens Medal, it is the highest civilian honor awarded in the country.

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