Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Medal honors 6,000 veterans

Six nisei men who served in World War II watch as legislation is signed by Obama

By Gregg K. Kakesako


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 yesterday to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Battalion, the 442nd and the Military Intelligence Service.

The law recognizes more than 6,000 nisei, or 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 on the White House blog.

Joining the six World War II veterans, who wore their blue and red overseas caps, were Hawaii Reps. Mazie Hirono and Charles Djou; California Reps. Adam Schiff and Michael Honda; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric 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, Berkeley -- he enlisted in the Army and became a MIS interpreter; Jimmie Kanaya, who enlisted in the 442nd and later received a battlefield commission; Yeiichi "Kelly" Kagawa, who as a 442nd medic is credited with saving Inouye's life; and Terry Shima, who enlisted from Hawaii and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as a replacement just before the war ended.

Inouye, who lost his right arm while attacking a German machine gun emplacement in Italy, said that although veterans at the ceremony "appeared to be in a happy, jovial mood, I am certain that all of us recognized the emotional caliber of the moment. We knew that the recognition we were receiving was the result of lost lives and bloodshed. We were humbled, proud and pleased that the contributions and sacrifices we made in defense of our great nation were recognized. I am very grateful to this nation for remembering us."

Shima, 87, who lives in Maryland, described the 30-minute ceremony as "very humbling."

Throughout the White House ceremony Shima said he thought of the 800 nisei veterans "who never made it back."

"My memories went back to all the sacrifices made by all of them," Shima added, "and it gave me goose pimples."

After Obama signed the legislation with seven pens, he gave everyone who attended a presidential coin.

In a statement issued before the signing ceremony, 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 U.S. history.

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, the Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Dalai Lama.

The 100th Battalion and the 442nd RCT received 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.

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

Shima said plans are now under way after the coin is minted to hold an awards and banquet ceremony next summer or fall, hopefully in the rotunda of the Capitol.

The Congressional Gold Medal was first awarded by the 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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