HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Members of World War II army units made up of Americans of Japanese ancestry were honored Saturday after receiving the nation's highest civilian honored bestowed by Congress.
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded last month to members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. Some 450 survivors of those legendary Nisei units were present for what may be the last gathering of its kind.
The veterans were first honored with a parade through Waikiki, as local and visitors alike applauded the vets riding down Kalakaua Avenue, giving them the recognition they earned for their service in World War II.
"This is fabulous. It really is an awesome experience," said veteran Edward Yamasaka of the 442nd. "And going along Kalakaua Avenue, all those well-wishers. It's really an honor."
These were men, now in their 80s and 90s, who joined the army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, asking for the opportunity to defend their country, the United States. Their loyalty, bravery, valor and dedication are now unquestioned, according to retired Gen. Eric Shinseki of Kauai, now the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who listed the more than 18,000 individual awards given to members of those units between September 1943 and September 1945.
"Awards that included 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, over four thousand Bronze Stars. A staggering 9,486 Purple Hearts for Combat Wounds," said Shinseki.
Shinseki was the keynote speaker at a luncheon at the Hawai Convention Center that followed the parade. At the gathering, seven more veterans received their Bronze Stars for their service. And all the veterans present were given replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal, which was formally awarded to their units in a ceremony last month at the U.S. Capitol.
These men are humble, and take their awards in stride, like 91-year-old Goro Sumida of the 100th Battalion. "I'm supposed to be dead about seven times. Still alive," he said. "You get shot from a tank, you get shot from sniper, you get shot from almost your own friends. So not too bad, still living."
Masa Kawamoto, who sustained shrapnel wounds, wore a uniform that he hadn't donned since the end of the war.
"Nineteen forty-three, March, in Mississippi I think I had 'um," said Kawamoto, recalling when he got the uniform. When asked if he was surprised that it still fit, he replied, "Yeah," laughing.
At least one of the veterans said it was a nice way to see old friends. But it was also the nation's -- and Hawaii's way -- to honor them.
"Distinguished in battle. Unique in American history, and yet humble nearly to a fault," said Shinseki. "These are the boys of One Puka Puka, Go For Broke and M.I.S."
The veterans will also participate in a memorial service at 9 a.m. Sunday at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Related link: www.congressionalgoldmedalhawaii.com