Only one Congressional Gold Medal, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, will be minted next year in honor of more than 13,000 Japanese-American veterans who served in Europe and the Pacific in World War II.
It will be presented to the Smithsonian Institution at a ceremony that supporters hope will be held in the rotunda of the nation’s Capitol as early as next summer.
The U.S. Mint will also produce smaller bronze replicas that can be purchased after the ceremony, said Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairwoman of the National Veterans Network, a coalition of 22 Japanese-American and civic organizations that spearheaded the campaign resulting in legislation honoring the nisei, or second-generation Japanese-American soldiers of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. The bill was signed Oct. 5 by President Barack Obama.
Terry Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, said the medal also honors the wartime services of 3,000 Military Intelligence Service veterans who fought in Pacific combat zones, and another 1,000 nisei who worked as interpreters in occupied Japan from the end of the war until December 1946.
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.
Veterans encouraged to sign up early for event
The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony will be hosted by the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and organizers would like to hold the event in the Capitol rotunda.
Veterans, next of kin and spouses interested in attending are encouraged to register by going to the National Veterans Network website (www.nationalveteransnetwork.com), clicking on the "ceremony" page and submitting information online.
For the midday ceremony, priority seating will be given to members of the 100th Battalion, 442nd and Military Intelligence Service veterans.
Among the veterans being considered to formally receive the medal on behalf of the three units are Medal of Honor recipients U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Barney Hajiro, George "Joe" Sakato and Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura.
Organizers also hope to accommodate the widows or next of kin of the soldiers killed in action or who died after World War II, with "priority" seats in the rotunda.
"That is why we are encouraging people to register with us early since the speaker’s office will use that registry to send out invitations," said Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association.
Japanese Americans in the MIS intercepted radio transmissions, translated enemy documents, interrogated Japanese prisoners of war, volunteered for covert military intelligence missions and persuaded Japanese soldiers to surrender during the Pacific campaign.
Only one gold medal will be awarded for the three units. However, Sato-Yamazaki said individual veterans or their families can purchase bronze replica medals authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Smaller 3-inch, and possibly 1 1/2-inch, bronze replicas will be available for purchase by anyone, she said. The price of the 3-inch medal is $42 and $50 with a case. No cost has been established for the 1 1/2-inch replica.
Sato-Yamazaki said her organization met earlier this month with Mint officials who will design the medal. There will be no solicitation for designers or designs, Sato-Yamazaki said.
"At the meeting," Sato-Yamazaki said, "we submitted a binder complete with the insignias for the 100th, 442nd and MIS, along with national archive photos, historical background, books and videos on each unit."
She said that the design of the new medal should be completed within the next eight months.
Shima, a 442nd veteran, said plans are under way after the coin is minted to hold a two-day program in Washington, D.C., either late next summer or early fall with the awards ceremony to be held at the Capitol and followed by an evening banquet.
A second day of ceremonies is planned for the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, where 69 Japanese-Americans who fought in battles from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq are buried; and at the World War II Memorial and Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II in Washington, D.C.
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 include the Wright Brothers, Rosa Parks, Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and the Dalai Lama.
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.