Categorized | Military, News

Legislation honors ‘Go For Broke’ Japanese-American WWII vets

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“This recognition of bravery, patriotism, and unquestioned loyalty is long overdue,” said Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) as the U.S. House passed S.1055, legislation that collectively awards the Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Army “Go For Broke” 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service for their acts of valor during World War II.

The measure passed by voice vote in the U.S. House. It now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Once signed into law, it recognizes Nisei soldiers — Japanese-Americans born of immigrant parents — who fought in Europe and the Asia-Pacific theatre at a time when the U.S. government sent their families to internment camps throughout the country. A majority of the Nisei who served during World War II were from Hawaii.

“At a time when many of their fellow Americans questioned their loyalty to the United States, these Japanese-American soldiers enlisted and put their lives on the line to defend our freedom overseas while fighting against fear and discrimination at home,” Hirono said.

The Congressional Gold Medal will be on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute. The “Go For Broke” regiments are the most decorated in United States military history for its size and length of service earning 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 22 Legion of Merit Medals, 15 Soldier’s Medals, 4,000 Bronze Stars and more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, among numerous additional distinctions.

Hirono’s statement of support:

Madam Speaker, I rise to urge my colleagues to support S. 1055, which honors the thousands of Japanese-American veterans who served during World War II. At a time when many of their fellow Americans questioned their loyalty to the United States, these Japanese-American soldiers enlisted and put their lives on the line to defend our freedom overseas while fighting against fear and discrimination at home.

S. 1055 awards a Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service in honor of their military service.

Many of the soldiers comprising these units were Nisei, the American-born sons of Japanese immigrants. Some served in the University of Hawaii’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), which aided the wounded, buried the fallen, and helped defend vulnerable areas in Hawaii after the attack at Pearl Harbor.

In spite of these acts of loyalty and courage, the U.S. Army discharged all Nisei in the ROTC unit, changed their draft status to ineligible, and segregated all Japanese-Americans in the military on the mainland out of their units. During this time, more than a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes to internment camps.

Undaunted, members of the Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion joined the 100th Infantry Battalion in California to train as soldiers. The sheer determination and pursuit of excellence displayed by this battalion in training contributed to President Roosevelt’s decision to allow Nisei volunteers to serve in the U.S. military again, leading to their incorporation into the 442nd.

Members of the 100th and the 442nd risked their lives to fight for our country and allies in Europe. The 442nd “Go for Broke” unit became the most decorated in U.S. military history for its size and length of service, with its component, the 100th Infantry Battalion, earning the nickname “The Purple Heart Battalion”.

In addition, the six thousand or so Nisei that comprised the Military Intelligence Service made vital contributions to our wartime success by conducting critical classified intelligence operations. Only in recent years has their invaluable service come to light, and it is long past due for honoring and acknowledging their critical role during the war.

In the spirit of celebrating these courageous soldiers, I would like to share the stories of three men who overcame humble beginnings and adversity to become successful scholars and community leaders in my home State of Hawaii.

Kobe Shoji was a junior at Pomona College when he and his family received orders to go to an internment camp in Arizona. They brought nothing more than a suitcase with them to the camp. Kobe enlisted the next year and went to Germany to fight as a member of the 442nd. Although he was wounded twice, he came back to the States, never complaining about the discrimination he and his family had faced or about the wounds he had suffered in the war.

Kobe returned to complete his studies, recalling that it was as though “nothing had happened….except we were all much more mature due to the wartime experience. We all had the feeling we must do something to make the world a better place to live.”

Kobe earned his doctorate in plant physiology from UCLA and moved to Hawaii thereafter to teach at the University of Hawaii and work as a respected agriculture expert. He later enjoyed watching his oldest son Dave coach the university’s Rainbow Wahine volleyball team to many national championships.

Ken Otagaki is another example of resilience and success in spite of life’s challenges. As the second son of a field laborer on the Island of Hawaii, Ken Otagaki left home at the age of 12 to work in Honolulu on the Island of Oahu as a houseboy before putting himself through college. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ken enlisted and joined the 100th Infantry Division, serving overseas as a litter bearer.

In January 1944, Ken was near Cassino, Italy, when he and six other litter bearers were called upon to help soldiers in front of them. Ken and seven other soldiers faced a barrage of mortar shells from the enemy. Three were killed. Four, including Ken, were seriously injured and were not evacuated until nearly a day later.

Ken recuperated at Walter Reed Hospital and later received the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Purple Heart. Ken wrote to his sweetheart Janet, telling her that he had lost his right leg, two fingers on his right hand, and the sight in his right eye.

Their daughter Joy recalled that her mother thought her father “wasn’t going to sit around and feel sorry for himself.” Ken and Janet married later that year.

Because of his war injuries, Ken had to give up his plan to become a medical doctor, instead earning a Ph.D. in animal science. The Otagakis began their life together on the mainland and had five kids before moving back to Hawaii, where Ken taught at the University of Hawaii and later led the state Agriculture Department.

His children recall that their father had high expectations of his children and was always a good example for them. He also never let what others perceived to be physical disabilities stop him from being active, climbing trees to pick ripe mangoes and teaching his kids how to swim and ride a bike.

Another veteran from Hawaii, Yoshiaki Fujitani, worked as a member of the Military Intelligence Service. Yoshiaki grew up on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in the pineapple plantation community of Pauwela, Maui.

A second-generation Japanese-American, Yoshiaki was taught ethics at Japanese language school, where he learned about honesty and perseverance by hearing stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He was also taught what is known in Japanese as “kuni no on,” or gratitude to one’s country, America.

After serving in ROTC at the University of Hawaii, Yoshiaki rose through the ranks in the Hawaii Territorial Guard, becoming squad leader. The Guard was later disbanded without explanation. Guard members believed that the disbanding took place because Japanese-Americans in the Guard were viewed as being potential traitors.

On Dec. 7, 1941, while preparing to play softball, Yoshiaki saw smoke and planes flying above Pearl Harbor before learning about the attack on the radio.

Later, he volunteered for the civilian Varsity Victory Volunteers but quit when he learned that his father was being held at a Department of Justice camp for being a “potentially dangerous enemy alien.”

Yoshiaki got a job to support his family and volunteered for civil defense.

When his friends join the 442nd, his initial anger about his father’s incarceration subsided, and he decided to join the Military Intelligence Service. Yoshiaki served in Tokyo on assignment for the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section.

After the war ended, Yoshiaki got married and raised a family, living in Japan before returning to Hawaii to work in Wailuku, Maui, as a minister of the Buddhist faith. He focused on fostering interfaith cooperation, eventually becoming the Bishop of the Hawaii Kyodan.

In 1976, Yoshiaki established the “Living Treasures of Hawaii” to recognize the cultural contributions of individuals in Hawaii.

In recent years, Yoshiaki shares words of wisdom, remarking that “it’s a matter of choice, how we live. Do we live in anger, or do we live with love, a regard for others?…[W]e should live with regard and love for others.”

The life stories of Kobe Shoji, Ken Otagaki, and Yoshiaki Fujitani serve as inspiration for us all. Their perseverance, humility, and strength enabled them to triumph over life’s adversities. We must never forget the Japanese-American men and women like Kobe, Ken, and Yoshiaki, who nobly served to defend their country at a time when their patriotism was in doubt.

The legislation before us, S. 1055, also honors Senator Daniel Inouye and the late Senator Spark Matsunaga, who served in the 442nd and 100th units and would later go on to help many people in Hawaii and across the country through their decades of public service.

We have the opportunity to honor these brave Americans by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, which will be on permanent display at the Smithsonian. I urge my colleagues to vote in support of S. 1055.

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