More than 33,000 Japanese Americans, 13,000 of them from Hawaii, who once were classified as "enemy aliens" after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, were honored today with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The World War II veterans honored were nisei or second generation Japanese American soldiers who were members of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat — two segregated Army units — and the Military Intelligence Service, whose soldiers served as interpreters and intelligence experts in the Pacific War.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Medal of Honor recipient who lost his right arm serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, told more than 1,200 people at a U.S. Capitol ceremony that the U.S. government believed that Japanese Americans were "were unfit to put on an uniform" following the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack.
He recalled that Japanese Americans, many of them imprisoned behind barbed wire fences at internment camps, petitioned the U.S. government that they be allowed to fight in World War II "to show their patriotism."
In accepting the medal for his comrades Inouye, who wore a dark navy blazer with the patch of the 442nd RCT sewn on his pocket, said that Gen. Douglas McArthur said the efforts of the MIS "ended the war (in the Pacific) by at least a year."
"This has been a long journey," Hawaii’s senior senator added.
Waialae resident Herbert Yanamura, who enlisted in the 442nd RCT during his senior year at Konawaena High School on the Big Island, said he was "overwhelmed" by the attention and the accolades.
"It’s a really a collective effort of all of us," said Yanamura, who was transferred to the MIS and participated in Leyte and Okinawan campaigns. "I am really touched for the country to give us this honor."
Pearl City resident Mitsuo Ted Hamasu, who was drafted into the Army a year before the war started, represented the 100th Battalion on the podium and accepted the medal from House Speaker John Boehner.
The 442nd, which also included soldiers from the 100th Battalion, was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history because of its size and length of service.
The legislation signed on Oct. 5, 2010 was co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).