By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
High-ranking officials from the Navy and Army were among those paying tribute to the Nisei veterans of World War II during the Go For Broke National Education Center’s 11th annual Evening of Aloha, held Oct. 13 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles.
About 900 people attended the gala, which began with a reception and silent auction. Around the rooms were poster-size portraits of Nisei vets who have been long-time friends of GFBNEC. Some of the vets were present and posed next to their old photos; others have passed away and were represented by their wives.
Following a drumming performance by TaikoProject, the LAPD Color Guard and Emerald Society Pipe and Drums posted the colors and accompanied a procession of veterans into the ballroom. Lauren Kinkade-Wong sang the national anthem, Kelsey Kwong sang the “Go For Broke Song,” and Keali’i Ceballos Halau performed a welcome dance.
Steve Morikawa, Evening of Aloha chairperson and assistant vice president of corporate community relations for American Honda Motor Co. Inc., gave opening remarks along with GFBNEC President Don Nose and GFBNEC Chairman George Nakano. ABC7 news anchor David Ono served as emcee.
Nakano presented a “Community Hero” award to Councilmember Jan Perry for supporting the organization during her years as Little Tokyo’s representative on the City Council. Although Perry, who is running for mayor, is leaving the council, she pledged to continue her involvement with GFBNEC.
Nose noted that much has happened since last year’s gala, which celebrated the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service. After the main ceremony in Washington, D.C. nearly a year ago, several regional ceremonies have been held, including one last June at the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo. Go For Broke was also involved in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s awarding of posthumous degrees to seven ROTC cadets who were killed in action while serving with the 442nd.
Other accomplishments listed by Nose include replacing the well lights around the monument; transcribing the videotaped oral histories of Nisei vets; working with the UCLA Department of Information Studies to catalogue the photo archives in a more organized fashion; and working with at-risk youth through the National Guard Challenge Academy. “The Nisei story resonates with these young men and women,” he said.
Ono showed his documentary focusing on Nisei who received the Medal of Honor for bravery during World War II, four of whom are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights — Sadao Munemori, Joe Hayashi, Kiyoshi Muranaga and Ted Tanouye. An interview with George Sakato, one of the few living recipients, is included, along with footage shot in Italy and France for last year’s documentary on Nisei soldiers. Ono said it hasn’t been determined whether the new documentary will air this year or next year.
He also showed images from the Hirahara family’s collection of thousands of photos of daily life at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, where many Southern Calfornians were interned. Ono said efforts are under way to identify people in the photos, and he plans to do a documentary on this project as well.
Entertainment was provided by Grammy-winning composer/musician Daniel Ho and friends. The evening’s chefs were brought on stage to be thanked for the meal: Roy Yamaguchi, founding chef and owner of Roy’s Restaurants Worldwide; Jackie Lau, corporate executive chef for Roy’s Restaurants Hawaii; Akira Hirose, chef and owner of Maison Akira in Pasadena; and Andreas Nieto, executive chef of the Bonaventure.
The evening also included a live auction, a “Ralling the Troops” presentation by Nose to raise additional funds, and an opportunity drawing for a 2013 Acura TL, which was won by 93-year-old Chiyo N. Horiuchi from Denver.
“A Debt of Gratitude”
Retired four-star Gen. David Bramlett, a Vietnam veteran who has served in various command and staff positions, including the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, spoke of the Medal of Honor recipients, who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”
The nation owes “a debt of gratitude” to the Nisei soldiers, he said, noting that whenever he meets Nisei vets, “without exception they talk about their buddies … those who fell.”
The first Nisei soldier to be killed in action was Joe Takata, Bramlett noted. “Prophetically, he received the Distinguished Service Cross. He gave his life for his boys … It was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice and valor … that characterized the Nisei in Europe in World War II.”
Bramlett added that the 100th/442nd received seven Presidential Unit Citations, the equivalent of a Distinguished Service Cross for an individual. The unit must have displayed “such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.”
The general stated that he knows of no other unit that received that many citations in such a short period of time. “These are men … who performed at the highest levels. The 21 we honored with the Medal of Honor is the tip of the iceberg.”
He stressed that the approximately 18,000 decorations for the 100th/442nd made it the most decorated unit for its size and length of service not just in the Army, but in all of U.S. military history, including the Civil War. But the veterans continue to be humble and self-effacing, he said, quoting a Nisei friend as saying, “General, why do you make such a fuss over us?”
Bramlett quoted Gen. Mark Clark of the 5th Army as saying that the Nisei “will never leave a cut-off individual or unit” and that “they all get up and move forward at ‘zero hour.'”
It is “embarrassing” that only one Medal of Honor was awarded to a Nisei soldier during the war and 20 Distinguished Service Crosses were upgraded to Medals of Honor 55 years later, Bramlett said, but “when those gentlemen and their families stood up to receive that award … we were reminded what we owe the Nisei veterans and their families.” He added that was an opportunity to educate the public about the internment, as each citation mentioned the camp that the soldier had come from.
Regarding the “invaluable” work that the MIS did as translators and interpreters in Asia and the Pacific, Bramlett said that while the MIS did receive a Presidential Unit Citation, many individuals’ heroism went “unrecognized and unknown” because their actions, top secret at the time, were not properly recorded and reported.
“These men and their families, their kind may not pass this way again,” he concluded. “… They surpassed every expectation. They asked for nothing in return except the rights of citizenship. They have left us a story to tell and a legacy to perpetuate … Let’s not let them down.”
Vice Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., who was born in Japan and currently serves as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered the main address. Having been raised in Tennessee and Alabama, he joked, “Where I grew up, L.A. meant Lower Alabama. So I’m very pleased to be here tonight in the real L.A.”
Speaking to the veterans, he said, “Will Rogers once said, ‘We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb as the real heroes march by.’ Well, I’m standing on the curb tonight in the presence of the true heroes who sit before me. Thank you, gentlemen, for all you’ve done for our country.”
“Our society, particularly youth, thirsts for heroes, and I believe we’re looking for them in all the wrong places,” he continued. “… There are so many people labeled as heroes today that it’s difficult to sort out who the real heroes are. We hear the term applied to sports figures, to rock stars, to TV and movie personalities … While their performances are entertaining and even great, they are not heroic.
“There are some in the media that would have you believe that heroes are defined by popularity and consist of form over substance. Nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t build strength of character with steroids, you do it with grit, determination and unrelenting courage. Qualities that the 442nd, the 100th, the MIS, the 522nd, the 232nd and the 1399th had in abundance, and the Nisei women that joined the Women’s Army Corps …
“True heroism means taking a stand at a critical turning point … a stand that makes a real difference in terms of outcomes and in the lives of others … Heroism is not defined by skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the ‘Greatest Generation’ is the recognition that the majority holds no monopoly on heroism.”
Harris attributed “the freedoms that we enjoy today” to “the actions and sacrifices of individual men and women who stepped into the breach for their country,” including the Nisei of World War II. “Faced with mortal danger, they looked not for the way out but instead marched boldly toward the sound of the guns.”
Acknowledging that “our nation has not always dealt immigrants and minorities a fair shake,” Harris said, “If any minority had the right to make their legacy one of bitterness, anger and protest, it was the Japanese Americans … Uprooted from their homes, their businesses sold at a loss or simply taken, distrusted by fellow citizens, draft card labeled 4C, undesirable alien, these Americans had every reason to hate, but instead they chose to make theirs a legacy of service, of honor and of courage.”
Today, he said, he is part of a long line of Asian American admirals and generals — including Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff and current secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs — and one of over 110,000 men and women of Asian descent in the military.
Harris said he can appreciate the dreams and aspirations of Asian Americans, particularly immigrants, because of his mother’s story. “She’s Nihonjin from Kobe … She lost her home, her family, her school and many of her friends in air raids in the same war that her future husband was fighting and many in this room were fighting … She told me to be proud of my ethnic heritage. So from my mother I learned about giri or duty and obligation.
“Having survived the devastation of wartime Japan, she married an American sailor and once she settled in America, she adapted with grace and became an American citizen in 1974. She told me her proudest accomplishment was voting — and jury duty.”
Harris followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Navy at age 18. “I’m still there … I served at the beginning of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I’ll be around to see their end.” He added that the U.S. now recognizes that “our prosperity and security depend even more on the Asia Pacific region” and “must play an even larger role in this region in the decades to come” to ensure “a peaceful Asia Pacific region where sovereign states prosper.”
In conclusion, he told the audience, “It’s our duty, it’s our obligation to remember the legacy of our heroes, be they the Founding Fathers, the abolitionists who rejected slavery, the Nisei who fought in World War II, or the young men and women who are doing their nation proud in Iraq and Afghanistan today …
“America is the country she is because of our heroes past and present … because of young men and women who are willing to forgo wearing a business suit, forgo strolling down Easy Street … instead going along an uncertain road fraught with peril.”