The JAVA contingent marches down Constitution Avenue, the same route taken by the 442nd RCT in 1946. (Photo by Kay Wakatake)

WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Veterans Association participated in three major events during the 2012 Memorial Day weekend to honor the fallen members of America’s armed forces, including Japanese Americans and other Asian Pacific Americans.

The 64th annual Memorial Day Service, sponsored jointly by the Japanese American Citizens League’s Washington, D.C. Chapter and JAVA, was held on May 27 at the Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium Ceremonial Courtyard. Featuring Lt. Col. Kay Wakatake as principal speaker, the event also included  speeches given by Janice Nakano Faden, president of JACL WDC; Gerald Yamada, president of JAVA; and two students from Spark Matsunaga Elementary School, located at Germantown, Md. and named after the late Hawaii senator and World War II veteran.

The speakers made their remarks in the tranquility of the over 600-acre military cemetery with row after row of white crosses lined up in formation in the background. Wakatake said, “Let us remember those who never came home. Let us remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for others, for their nation, and for the people of other nations.  Let us remember, and let us be forever grateful.”

Fourth-grader Kendall Griffith said, “The real meaning of Memorial Day itself is often overlooked and replaced by a focus on long vacation weekends and barbecues … Memorial Day shouldn’t be about what we do, but what our veterans have done for us.”

Fourth-grader Lauren Penn said, “Those people who are in the military put their lives on the line every day. They are doing it because they love our country, not because they are being forced to — just like our World War II veterans and the Japanese Americans in the 100th/442nd and the Military Intelligence Service.”

After conveying JACL’s and JAVA’s welcome, Faden said, “We express our gratitude for their heroic acts and sacrifices during World War II and for their work in rebuilding Japan and Europe afterwards.”

Yamada added, “World War II Nisei soldiers won battles on the battlefield and fought prejudice at home. Their sacrifices and service will continue to be the leadership model for future generations to follow.”

Following the program, Turner Kobayashi, overall chair of the service, arranged teams to decorate 75 Japanese American gravesites.

In the morning of May 28, Yamada was invited to Arlington National Cemetery to see President Barack Obama lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. Subsequently, Yamada joined other JAVA members in the Amphitheater, where Obama, following an earlier appearance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, addressed the nation.

Referring to the eight years of the Iraq War that caused 4,500 American patriots to sacrifice their lives, the president told the packed audience, many of whom had lost family members in combat, “I cannot fully understand your loss. As a father, I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to receive that knock at the door and realize your worst fears have come true. But, as commander-in-chief, I can tell you sending our troops into harm’s way is the most wrenching decision I have to make. I can promise you that I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary, and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”

In the warm and sunny afternoon, the JAVA contingent, led by Wakatake, marched in the American Veterans Center parade down Constitution Avenue. This annual march is an especially significant event for JAVA because on July 15, 1946, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team marched down this same path to the Ellipse, where it was reviewed by President Harry Truman.

Truman’s statement attesting to the loyalty of Japanese Americans, an attempt to defeat the discrimination and racism that was prevalent at the time, also helped to set the stage for reforms that would benefit all minorities, not just Japanese Americans.

The JAVA contingent was made up of former soldiers of the 442nd and MIS wearing their veterans’ caps, a 1942 model Jeep, and veterans of conflicts since World War II.  The group generated favorable reactions from the estimated 250,000 people who lined up on both sides of the parade route. Many waved enthusiastically; some stood erect rendering the hand salute amidst shouts of “Go For Broke” and “442nd.”

Next year’s JAVA contingent will be bolstered by the participation of the color guards from the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, a U.S. Army Reserve unit in Hawaii with two deployments to the Middle East war zone.

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