Yapseta Kassa and Will Ritchie, members of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple's Boy Scout Troop 738, help in putting away the flags used during Memorial Day ceremonies at Evergreen Cemetery on Monday. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Writer

Fallen Japanese American soldiers were remembered in a solemn ceremony on Memorial Day at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

The cemetery is the final resting place of those who served in conflicts going all the way back to the Civil War. One of its most prominent monuments is dedicated to the Nisei who fought in World War II, and features a statue of Sadao Munemori, the first Japanese American recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Steve Moriyama, commander of VFW Post 1961, served as emcee. Organizational colors were posted by Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council member organizations and wreathes were presented by the 100th/442nd Veterans Association with Boy Scouts assisting. Marine Corps Junior ROTC cadets from Redondo Union High School conducted the presentation of colors.

From left: Darrell Kunitomi, Helen Ota and Kurt Kuniyoshi of the Grateful Crane Ensemble sang the national anthem and read Memorial Day poems.

In his invocation, Rev. Dr. Richard Kuyama of Centenary United Methodist Church prayed for the “fallen heroes” as well as the wounded, the families of the troops, and those currently serving.

The national anthem was sung by Helen Ota, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Darrell Kunitomi of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, who also gave the Memorial Day presentation.

“Remember, those who are buried here were once young and vibrant members of our community —  our sons, brothers, fathers and friends,” said Kunitomi. “Their hearts were touched by fire. They served their country when called and gave their lives in its defense. Veterans — their hearts were touched with fire and they shared the experience of war and survived. Because of those experiences, they are brethren and forever connected with those that are buried here.

“Families and friends were touched by the hearts touched with fire … They waited anxiously at home for the outcome, and when it came, they rejoiced in their return. Some were left to grieve their loss. They are also forever connected by their experiences … We are also forever connected … by the debt we owe to those that sacrificed their lives for this country. A debt we cannot repay but should perpetually honor.”

The three actors read selected poems to express their feelings on this occasion. “Young Sons” by Bill Milton is about a mother’s loss; “Home at Last” by Tony Church describes a soldier’s funeral;  “I Went to See the Soldiers” by Kenny Martin takes place in a military cemetery.

“Each year we gather in fellowship to honor these young men and women who gave their lives for all of us,” said Ota.

“We mourn their loss and provide comfort to those families that bore the sacrifice,” added Kuniyoshi.

“And with gratitude we remember and honor those who are buried here and at honored fields far away,” Kunitomi concluded.

Representatives of the following organizations gave floral tributes:

Gold Star Families— Sally Hamamoto

Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council — Chairman Steve Moriyama

Sadao Munemori Post 321, American Legion— Commander Kei Ishigami

Disabled American Veterans, Nisei Chapter 100 — Commander Akio Sawada

100th/442nd Veterans Association — President Laura Shigemitsu

4th District Nisei Memorial Post 1961, VFW — Acting Sr. Vice Commander Mickey Nozawa

6th District Nisei Memorial Post 9902, VFW — Commander Richard Gonzales

San Fernando Valley Nisei Memorial Post 4140, VFW — Commander Frank Tanaka

Military Intelligence Service Veterans Association of SoCal — President Hitoshi Sameshima

Japanese American Korean War Veterans — President Min Tonai

Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee — President Ken Hayashi

Buddhist Federation of Los Angeles — Rinban Hiroshi Abiko, Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

Japanese American Church Federation — Rev. Dr. Richard Kuyama, Centenary UMC

Memorial Preservation Committee — Chairman Howard Miyoshi

Go For Broke National Education Center — Vice Chairman Govan Yee

Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California — President Haruo Takehana

Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California — Vice President Kazuko Doizaki

Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai  — President Hisamori Iwashita

Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles — Consul General Jun Niimi

The Honor Roll was read by Mickey Nozawa, Lynn Okamoto and Bob Yoshioka of VFW Post 1961. The list included Munemori and fellow Medal of Honor recipients Joe Hayashi, Kiyoshi Muranaga and Ted Tanouye. (The latter three were upgraded to Medals of Honor in 2000.)

The ROTC cadets fired a 21-gun salute and played “Taps.”

In his closing meditation, Rev. Kodo Tanaka of Jodoshu North America Buddhist Mission said, “A Buddhist teacher once said though the petals of a flower may fall to the ground, the flower remains. Likewise, though a body may die, life remains. And certainly those who lost their lives in service to our country live on in the hearts of their family and friends and in the hearts of all of us gathered here today …

“We are able to enjoy this opportunity for reunion precisely because of their sacrifice. In our Japanese tradition, there is a word, ikasareru, which means literally to live, but more precisely to be given the opportunity to live. It is a recognition that although we may think that we live because of our own efforts … in reality, we live because of the sacrifices of so many lives both in the past and present. It is therefore an expression not only of the fact that we are alive but also of appreciation for this opportunity to live.

“The natural extension of that true feeling of gratitude is the acceptance of our obligation to work for the benefit of others, to work to bring about a world devoid of such ills as war, oppression and discrimination, to leave behind a better world where peace, freedom and mutual love and respect and compassion can be enjoyed by the children to come in the future.”

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