Congressional Gold Medals go to Nisei veterans

05/27/2012 12:00 AM

09/01/2012 5:00 PM

High on Constitution Wall, above the courtyard at the California Museum in Sacramento, is the word "redress."

It was an appropriate one for the day's event, suggested Roy Sato, one of nearly 30 Nisei veterans who were honored with Congressional Gold Medals Saturday.

Like the reparations and redress that came in the 1980s for the Japanese Americans interned during World War II, these medals for those who served in World War II came after many would-be recipients had died.

"It's just too bad it had to happen so late," said Sato. "We're all way past 80."

"I wish this honor could have come sooner," agreed Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who presented each of the medals to the gray-haired veterans, some standing for the honor, others staying in wheelchairs.

"They left families behind so they could prove they were Americans," said Matsui, who sponsored the effort to get medals for the veterans.

The congressional honor affirms that they are American heroes, she said.

Medals were presented to 800 Nisei – second-generation Japanese Americans – veterans in Congress in November, but some honorees were too frail to travel to Washington, D.C.

That provided the occasion for Saturday's ceremony.

Sato had been interned, given a physical for military service and sent back to internment in Arkansas before he was finally accepted into the Army's 100th Infantry Battalion, seeing service in France and Italy.

Others presented with Gold Medals – the highest civilian honor – included members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.

Some had enlisted; others were drafted. All served after President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

"You fought World War II on two fronts," said Brandon Ida, reading a statement from California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who supported the medals in the upper house of Congress.

The largely segregated Japanese American units became the most highly decorated in the history of the American armed forces, Matsui noted.

But it was not easy to get stories of valor from them.

Though at least one honoree was also wearing a Purple Heart, the veterans were inclined to self-deprecation.

"I was lucky," Sato said.

"I wasn't expecting it," said Ken Hosokawa, a Military Intelligence Service veteran, who said he really didn't do much.

"Don't brag," was one of the precepts that generation learned, said Isao Fujimoto, an Asian studies professor at UC Davis.

Two other precepts that helped account for what they achieved during the war were to work hard and do whatever you can to bring honor to your family and community.

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