From left: Susumu Ito, Mitsuo Ted Hamasu and Grant Ichikawa represented Nisei World War II veterans in accepting the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker John Boehner on Nov. 2, 2011 at the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall. (Courtesy Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center)

With the 10th anniversary of the Congressional Gold Medal being celebrated this week, here are the profiles of the three Nisei veterans selected to accept it.

The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service at the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall. The three individuals who represented veterans and family members were:

• Susumu Ito, 442nd: Born on July 27, 1919 and raised in Stockton, Ito was drafted by the U.S. Army in the fall of 1940 , inducted in February 1941 and spent five years in the military service. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he served in a non-segregated Quartermaster Corps, Heavy Maintenance unit located in Camp Haan in Riverside County.

After Pearl Harbor, his family was incarcerated in the Rowher camp in Arkansas. In the early spring of 1943, Ito was selected to the cadre for the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was assigned to the Service Battery of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. He served in all of the 442nd campaigns in Europe, including the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of the 36th Division.

In April 1945, his battalion was separated from the 442nd and sent to eastern France and Germany, where the 522 was credited with breaking up a death march of Holocaust prisoners of the sub-camp of the death camp. Ito carried a small camera and took more than seven rolls of pictures throughout the war.

After the war, he received a Ph.D. in biology and embryology, and taught at Cornell Medical School in New York. He then joined Harvard Medical School in Boston in 1960 and was a tenured professor from 1967 until his retirement in 1990   

“For my fellow Nisei veterans and me, to serve in the military was in itself an honor as well as a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our dedicated patriotism which we tried to accomplish by living up to the tradition of ‘Go For Broke’ or going all out for everything asked of us,” said Ito.

“Having the Congressional Gold Medal bestowed on the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and the MIS will be a most cherished award that must be dedicated to those among of us who lost their lives in World War II; to the many veterans no longer with us; and to those who cannot be here for the medal presentation. We who are still able to be here accept the Congressional Gold Medal with pride and humility.”

• Grant Ichikawa, MIS: Born and raised in Suisun Valley, Ichikawa graduated from UC Berkeley in May 1941. Following Pearl Harbor, he and his family were incarcerated in a concentration camp. In November 1942, he volunteered from the camp to enroll in the six-month U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Language School.

Following graduation, he was sent to Brisbane, Australia and assigned to the Allied Translation and Interpretation Service (ATIS). He participated in the liberation of the Philippines. Immediately following Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of Japan’s surrender, Lt. Ichikawa talked 250 armed Japanese soldiers into surrendering their weapons.

There were 3,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Pacific War in every combat unit as front-line interrogators/translators, in the rear echelon as translators and communications interceptors, and in the Special Forces to operate behind enemy lines.

Subsequent to his honorable discharge and return to civilian life, Ichikawa was recalled to active duty during the Korean War to serve in the MIS. Following his discharge for the second time, he was assigned to the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. In April 1975 he served in Saigon and was among the last to leave aboard a helicopter from the U.S. Embassy rooftop.

• Mitsuo Ted Hamasu, 100th: Born in 1919 on the Big Island of Hawaii, Hamasu left school under protest after completing the eighth grade to work in the sugar plantations. After a year of plantation work, he was a carpenter’s helper for his uncle for seven years. He was drafted into the Hawaii National Guard, 299th Hawaii Infantry Regiment in 1940-41.

After Pearl Harbor, Hamasu was segregated with other Japanese Americans into the 100th Infantry Battalion. He fought in Italy before returning home to Hawaii in 1944. After recuperating from trench foot, he joined the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion and was discharged in 1945-46. He then worked as a utility man at Fort Shafter for a year.

In 1948 he married Tsuruye Otaguro and in 1949-50 re-enlisted as a staff sergeant and served in the Korean War for a year and a half. After the war, he attended signal school in Ft. Monmouth in New Jersey, and later became an instructor at the school. He later joined the signal battalion in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and the signal corps in Germany.

Hamasu left the military in 1963 and became a civilian employee with the Navy’s calibration laboratories in Hawaii, Japan and Whidby Island, Wash. for many years before retiring in 1986.

“It was morning on Dec. 7, 1941,” Hamasu recalled. “I was on guard duty at the airport.  We received a phone call saying that Pearl Harbor was attacked, bombed by Japanese planes. At first, I did not believe it. Another phone call confirmed the fact.

“Mainland troops replaced us as guards at the airport three months later. Our company deployed to a defensive position along the Hilo coast. We erected a gun opposition on South Point in case the enemy tried another attack.

“In April 1942, Company F received new orders. The riflemen of Japanese ancestry were to turn in all arms and ammunition, and assemble in the company area. The announcement: we would be shipped to an unknown destination and without being allowed to tell anyone, not even family.

“Quietly, about a month later, our segregated group of Nisei soldiers embarked a ship from Hilo to Honolulu and Schofield Barracks, then again in June from Honolulu to Oakland. We did not know it at the time, but we were headed to Camp McCoy, Wis. We were 1,432 men, A, B, C, D, E and F companies of infantrymen, one battalion and two extra companies strong. They named our outfit the 100th Infantry Battalion, or ‘One Puka Puka’ in Hawaiian …

“In February 1943, we were moved to Camp Shelby, Miss. We thought the Army was moving us to be in a warmer climate. Instead, we were being tested in the Louisiana maneuvers. The maneuvers lasted for months.  When we returned to Camp Shelby, we met our younger brothers of the 442.”

The three veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal from Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a 100th/442nd veteran, spoke on behalf of the recipients.

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