By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Veteran Ken Akune received medals he had earned during World War II at a ceremony held 77 years later in conjunction with the June 4 celebration of the Go For Broke Monument’s 23rd anniversary.
Attended by Akune’s relatives, including his grand-nephew, 1st Lt. Nicolas Taguchi, the ceremony was held by the Go For Broke National Education Center at the Japanese American National Museum. Members of the Akune, Taguchi, Choi and Ellis families were present along with David Ono of ABC 7 Eyewitness News and Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of GFBNEC.
A native of Turlock, Akune lives in Gardena and will turn 99 on July 3. He and his wife Alice have five children — Karen, David, Kenneth, Teresa and Kathleen — and two grandchildren — Kyle and Amy Choi.
“These were medals that he earned during the war. I’m not quite sure why he never physically received them and why they weren’t in his possession, but all these years he’s been without his medals,” Maki told The Rafu Shimpo. “Every so often it would come up and there would be a sense of ‘I wish I had them.’ And we had the opportunity this year at our monument anniversary to present the medals to him.
“It was very appropriate that his grand-nephew was able to present the medals. The grand-nephew is a graduate of West Point and an officer … We were able to go out and procure the medals and then have them framed … I think the recognition that Ken received in front of his family and friends meant the world to him, and therefore it meant the world to us to be able to do it because he’s one of our founding veterans.”
Maki added, “He has been a supporter of ours throughout the years. And more than that, he’s just a very special man. Very humble, dedicated to telling the story of the Japanese American veterans, both 100th/442nd and MIS (Military Intelligence Service) too, but not telling his story per se, telling their story. We’ve always appreciated that about him.
“For him to get it while he is still with us … that’s what makes all the difference in the world. You know, with the pandemic, nothing is given. At one point, we’re saying … do it at Evening of Aloha (in the fall, but we decided) let’s do it when we can because nothing is promised …
“His family was there. They came in from different parts of the United States. And then his Go For Broke family was there. So that was what made it very special.”
The medals were as follows:
• Army Presidential Unit Citation/Ribbon (formerly the Distinguished Unit Badge/Citation). Awarded to units who demonstrate exceptional heroism in action against an armed enemy.
• Army Good Conduct Medal and Ribbon. Given to any enlisted U.S. Army personnel who carry out three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service,” without any non-judicial punishments, disciplinary infractions, or court-martial offenses. During times of war, the AGCM can be granted for one year of faithful service.
• American Campaign Medal, with Ribbon. Granted to personnel who served one year of consecutive duty between Dec. 7, 1941 to March 2, 1946, within the continental borders of the U.S., as well as to those who served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days of duty outside the borders of the U.S. but within the American Theater of Operations.
• Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and Ribbon. Awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and any additional awards of the medal are represented by a bronze star worn on the award.
• World War II Victory Medal, with Ribbon. Presented to all members of the U.S. military who served in active duty or as a reserve during the period of Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946.
• Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar. Awarded in three grades (in ascending order): Marksman, Sharpshooter, and Expert. This badge is issued to soldiers upon completion of a weapons qualification course. Suspended from the badge are qualification bars that indicate the specific weapon(s) in which the soldier has qualified.
• Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II. Awarded to U.S. military service members who were discharged under honorable conditions during World War II.
While at the Amache (Granada) War Relocation Authority camp in Colorado during the war, Akune volunteered to join the service and was recruited into the MIS due to his knowledge of the Japanese language. He underwent basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, and was also sent to military language training at Camp Savage and Fort Snelling in Minnesota.
In January 1944, he was sent to the China-India-Burma Theater and was assigned to the Office of War Information. He interrogated Japanese prisoners of war to retrieve information about the Japanese Imperial Army, which was used in propaganda pamphlets that were given to Japanese soldiers during the war. When Pacific War ended, he was discharged home.
However, Akune wanted to return to Japan to spend time with his family (his sister, younger brother, and father were living in Japan during the war). He decided to sign up through civilian services to work as a linguist with the occupation forces and was assigned as a translator to the war crimes trials, including that of former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. While in Japan, he met and married his wife.
The couple moved back to the U.S. in 1949 and settled in Gardena to raise a family. Akune has been an integral part of GFBNEC since its inception in 1989. One of the founding members and among the most active Nisei veterans in the organization, he contributed to the creation and construction of the Go For Broke Monument, which was dedicated in 1999.
A true hero, at last getting the recognition he deserves. Thank you for your service Mr. Akune, thank you so very much. Sincerely, Jennifer Shim