Hawaii War Heroes Reflect on Meaning of Being 'American' on Independence Day

William Yoshito Thompson
William Yoshito Thompson
Ronald Oba
Ronald Oba
Bert Nishimura
Bert Nishimura

MO'ILI'ILI (KHNL) - On this Independence Day, a group of local World War II veterans reflect on what it means to be an American.

Bert Nishimura, Ronald Oba, and William Yoshito Thompson were all born and raised in Hawaii. They are proud Americans.

"We have the freedom of opportunity, to excel," said Thompson, an 83-year-old World War II veteran. "With your effort, you can go as high as you can."

But December 7th, 1941, changed their world. Oba witnessed Japanese planes attack Pearl Harbor.

"I saw a dive bomber from Waikiki side drop his torpedo and instead of going up and getting hit by the aircraft, he hugged the water's edge, and kept up towards me," said the 84-year-old veteran.

Following the attack, American men of Japanese decent were barred from serving in the U.S. military.

"There was considerable fear, uncertainty, as to what we would be doing should the Japanese army land," said Nishimura, an 89-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran.

Eventually, these men were allowed to serve. They fought as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Before they left for Europe in 1943, they had a huge send off in front of 'Iolani Palace.

"I was supposed to be the senior officer, was at the head of the line and people came to honor us," said Nishimura, who was the highest ranking Army officer of Japanese descent during the war. "And I felt, I admit, I felt a little proud that I was standing in front."

On this Independence Day, they reflect on their contributions to our country.

"I feel like I'm a 100 percent American," said Nishimura. "And my thoughts are no different from any other American citizen."

Veterans. Heroes. Americans.

The 442nd became the most highly decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. Army.