Japanese-American war veterans gather, share stories

Japanese-American war veterans gather, share stories
Leighton Sumida
Leighton Sumida

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - World War II was a time when Japan and the U.S. were sworn enemies.

Yet a team of Japanese-Americans still fought on the U.S. side.

It's the 68th anniversary of this trail-blazing group of veterans. They were the first Japanese-Americans to fight in World War II.

The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry is known as the Purple Heart Battalion or the "One-Puka-Puka," with the motto "Go For Broke."

The unit was made up of mostly Japanese-Americans.

There were about 1,4000 of them and were led by a handful of Caucasian officers.

"I went into the service, no drink, no smoke, no play with girls, don't know even how to kiss a girl," 100th Infantry Battalion veteran Leighton Sumida said.

Today, most of them are in their late 80s to early 90s. only a few of them remain.

"It's another milestone, we always say that this will be the last hurrah, we're still pushing it, I'm really pushing for the 70th," 100th Infantry Battalion veteran Robert Arakaki said.

In the early years of their anniversary, they got together at small restaurants and were the only ones to attend.

Today, it's a much different story, with a bigger setting, an elaborate program and many generations sharing these precious moments with them.

"The 100th was a test Japanese outfit, they must show loyalty, good solider and they did that," Arakaki said.

They faced rough lives in internment camps shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Even though they were born in Hawaii, they still weren't trusted.

"They give you one rifle, five bullets, that's all you get, how can you fight with only five bullets?" Sumida said.

But they go on to become the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.

"I was supposed to be dead about nine times over there with all those close calls," Sumida said. "I got shot by my own boys."

The 100th performed so well in training, that the U.S. Government reversed its decision on Japanese-Americans serving in the armed forces.

"Today is alright, now they trust you," Sumida said.

They were going for broke, despite being broken. One of the most famous members of this unit was U.S. Senator Dan Inouye.

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