On the mainland they were viewed with mistrust because of their Japanese ancestry as World War II raged across the Pacific.
In Hawaii they were local boys ready to do their part for their country.
Sixty-eight years ago yesterday, several thousand nisei volunteers who became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team stood ramrod straight on the grounds of Iolani Palace as they prepared to ship out to fighting overseas, eventually becoming the most decorated unit for its size and strength in U.S. military history.
Some were transferred to other Japanese-American units: the 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
Yesterday about 35 aged veterans returned to Iolani Palace to re-create that historic photo and hear the latest news on plans to award the 100th, 442nd and MIS the groups that fought overseas the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
On March 28, 1943, a farewell was hosted at the palace for more than 2,600 men leaving for training at Camp Shelby, Miss., according to homeofheroes.com.
A Star-Bulletin story at the time said, "No scene in Honolulu during World War II has been more striking, more significant, than that at the territorial Capitol grounds on Sunday. It was not alone the size of the crowd, somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000, and said by old-timers to be the largest that ever massed within the gateways to old Iolani Palace."
The account said it was "most significantly, the evident pride of the families and friends of these young Americans."
The veterans returned yesterday with canes, walkers and some fading memories, but with appreciation that Congress and the nation still acknowledge the adversity they overcame on the battlefield and in America at the time.
"I think it’s really something that we can be very thankful for the recognition," said Herbert Yanamura, 86.
He had been a high school senior in Kona before he became part of that formation, not knowing what his future would bring.
"The teacher announced the formation of a combat unit comprised of Americans of Japanese ancestry," he recalled. "He said, ‘I’m urging all the 18-year-olds and older to volunteer to show your loyalty.’ So I said OK."
He subsequently was moved to the MIS as an interpreter and took part in the Leyte invasion in the Philippines and the battle of Okinawa.
Retired Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, former head of the Hawaii National Guard, said yesterday that the third week of October is being looked at in Washington, D.C., for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal.
A bill signed by President Barack Obama will honor 13,000 nisei soldiers with a single Gold Medal that will be given to the Smithsonian Institution.
VETERANS will receive a replica. Lee said a couple dozen of the veterans in Hawaii are signed up to go to Washington, but many won’t be able to make the trip because of age and infirmity.
"There was a big movement afoot to make sure we had something locally here," Lee said.
A parade will be held Dec. 17 on Kalakaua Avenue honoring all four of the nisei units, followed by a banquet at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.
William Thompson, president of the 442nd Veterans Club, said the 1943 group photo is "priceless."
"We never dreamed that we’d go to war and get the honors that we received," he said.