U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye returned to the 442nd Veterans Club yesterday and presented his fellow World War II veterans with the bill signed by President Barack Obama that will honor 13,000 nisei soldiers with a single Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal that will be given to the Smithsonian Institution has yet to be minted. A preliminary design is expected next month, with a final design by the end of the year, Inouye said.
So Inouye (D-Hawaii) presented the club yesterday with the framed, two-page bill that Obama signed on Oct. 5, a photo of Obama signing the bill and the pen that Obama presented to Inouye after the signing.
The bill includes Obama’s signature, as well as Inouye’s signature as Senate pro tempore, which places him third in succession to the presidency.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Inouye was classified as an enemy alien and his parents were barred from becoming U.S. citizens.
But following the exploits of the 442nd, 100th Battalion and Military Intelligence Service that resulted in Inouye and other nisei soldiers receiving the Medal of Honor, Inouye yesterday could hardly believe he was back in the 442nd Veterans Club showing the aging soldiers his signature under the title of "president of the Senate pro tempore."
Inouye acknowledged the heavily armed Secret Service detail that follows him 24 hours a day and told the 30 veterans and friends that even he struggled to fathom his proximity to the nation’s highest post.
"Imagine an enemy alien becoming president of the United States," he said. "It’s a strange irony. … I’m still dumbfounded."
Club president Bill Thompson introduced Inouye as "probably our most distinguished 442nd veteran."
As Thompson spoke, Inouye sat beside Thomas Ooka, 88, of Pauoa, who served in E Company along with Inouye.
After the presentation, Ooka could hardly express what the act of Congress means to him.
"To be recognized by the United States Congress, you know … ," he said without finishing his thought.
Congressional Gold Medals, one of America’s highest civilian honors, are intended to honor those who serve the security and national interests of the United States.
They have gone to George Washington, the Wright Brothers, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Navajo code talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and the Dalai Lama.
The bill to honor Japanese-American veterans from the 442nd, 100th Battalion and MIS with a Congressional Gold Medal unanimously passed the House and Senate, Inouye said.
"Quite unbelievable," he said. "In our own little way, we made it easier for our sons and daughters and those who follow us to lead a rational life."