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WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The members of the U.S. Army's legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team were honored at a luncheon Sunday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Surviving members who could attend came for the reunion. They made a grand entrance, some of them with canes, some with walkers, some with wheelchairs -- all members of the nation's most-decorated military unit.
Still, some of them were amazed that more than a thousand people would show up to pay tribute to them. "I would say I'm really proud that people took it upon themselves to make some time," said Yasunori Deguchi, a member of the 442nd's Company F. At 88 years of age, he's one of the unit's youngest surviving members.
"Those who have survived, I think we gotta do for the rest of them -- carry the ball until the next generation takes over," he said.
A total of about 170 veterans attended, with 442nd RCT members making up the vast majority. "But each year it's getting less and less," said Yasunori Deguchi's son Wesley, who is also president of the 442nd RCT Sons & Daughters. "So the call is for us to pass this down to the next generation."
But even the next generation is aging. The 442nd vets are around 90 years old, and their sons and daughters are in their 50s and 60s. That's why unit members and their supporters are reaching out to the grandchildren. Many of them had major parts in the banquet, including the granddaughter of a member of the 522nd Artillery Battalion; she sang the national anthem and the state song, Hawaii Pono'i.
The event also paid tribute to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, another member of the 442nd, who died in December.
"It's very important that the seed that we plant now is a good seed that will germinate, and will not pass away," said Yasunori Deguchi.
"We really need to get the next generation to help out because their story cannot die," said Wesley Deguchi. "We have to continue their legacy."