GARDENA — Nisei Memorial VFW Post 1961 held its annual Memorial Day ceremony, the first in-person event since 2019, on May 28 at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute’s Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall.
Serving as emcee was Ron Ikejiri, former Gardena city councilman and mayor pro tem. Ikejiri, who served as JACL’s Washington, D.C. representative in the 1980s, recalled that the Nisei veterans of World War II, including Sens. Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii, played a key role in the passage of the redress bill that President Reagan signed into law in 1988.
The colors were posted by the Color Guard from Gardena High School’s AJROTC (Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps). The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Post Commander Stephen Moriyama.
The national anthem and other songs were performed by singer Itzel Perez and pianist Angela Gricar, who were overseen by Dr. Lynn Atkins, music director at Faith United Methodist Church in Torrance.
Rev. Allison Mark, senior pastor at Faith UMC, gave the invocation as well as the benediction at the end of the program.
Special guests included Gardena City Councilmembers Rodney Tanaka and Mark Henderson, National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court President Ken Hayashi, and “Manzanar Fishing Club” filmmaker Cory Shiozaki. Hayashi and Shiozaki are Vietnam veterans.
A Memorial Day reading was given by Cadet 2nd Lt. Adriana Sowders, Cadet Sgt. Maj. Kimberly Bautista and Cadet Danielle Felixson from Redondo Union High School’s Marine Corps JROTC.
Small flags were posted by Moriyama and VFW Women’s Club President Sue Watanabe for Post 1961’s honored deceased as well as those of Posts 9902, 9938 and 4140.
Family and friends of deceased veterans also posted flags, escorted by Post 1961 Adjutant Michael Miyamoto, RUHS MCJROTC cadets, GHS AJROTC cadets, BSA Troop 378 scouts, and Quartermaster Mickey Nozawa.
Outside the hall, the RUHS MCJROTC Honor Guard conducted the 21-rifle salute and played “Taps.”
During his closing remarks, Ikejiri introduced Emily Wang, who immigrated from China seven years ago, and her daughter Kexin. She was working as a cashier at Moana Grill when Ikejiri urged her to attend El Camino College. Three years later, she graduated with honors and was accepted to five UC campuses.
Now a junior at UCLA, Wang recently told Ikejiri that she was going to march with teaching assistants who were on strike for better pay and working conditions. “She said that if she tried to protest in China, she would never be seen again, but in America you have the right to protest and assemble peacefully.”
Ikejiri continued, “For so many of us that were born in America, we have taken for granted the rights that we have, and here a young immigrant from China was able to rekindle my understanding of the greatness and liberties that we have in our country. And that is because of … all of our service women and men, in the past and now …
“We are a nation of immigrants. When I was in Washington, D.C., I always felt an obligation to the Issei and Nisei for providing opportunities to Sansei, Yonsei and soon to be Gosei, to make our country even stronger and the brightest remaining hope for the world community. To the veterans … on behalf of Emily and Kexin, thank you for allowing them to live the American dream.”
After the colors were retired, refreshments were served by Post 1961, the Women’s Club and Troop 378.
On May 27, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and their adult leaders cleaned up more than 300 veterans’ gravesites at Green Hills Memorial Park and Los Angeles National Cemetery. This involved trimming overgrown grass, polishing each grave marker with oil, and American flags secured with Post pendants and Buddy Poppies on each grave. The uniformed scouts stood at attention and saluted each veteran.
Participating were Boy Scout Troop 719, BSA 310G, Boy Scout Troop 683, Boy Scout Troop 242, Boy Scout Troop 378, Girl Scout Troop 4345, and Post members.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo