Japanese-American WWII veterans receive nation's highest civilian honor

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by LORI MATSUKAWA / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 2, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 3 at 8:47 PM

WASHINGTON D.C.—“It was so emotional. It made me think about my life and what we as Japanese Americans became.”

Tosh Okamoto of Seattle on Wednesday was among the approximately 1,250 veterans and family representatives receiving a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Battalion and Military Intelligence Service were honored as a group, 68 years after the U.S. government allowed them to enlist in the segregated Army during World War II. Many men volunteered from government internment camps where they and their families - almost all American citizens - were locked up because of their ancestry. (Story continues below)

The Nisei (Japanese American) soldiers deserve the “enduring gratitude of the nation,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a Vietnam veteran and POW. “They did everything they were asked and more.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said, “President Clinton probably said it best; rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it has so ill treated.”

The Nisei veterans served with distinction, receiving more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 374 Silver Stars and 980 Bronze Stars. Twenty one Nisei soldiers received the Medal of Honor.

Speaking on behalf of his fellow veterans, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who previously received a Medal of Honor, said, “This has been a long journey, but a glorious one.”

For some veterans, the ceremony brought back emotions and memories long buried.

“I’m very proud,” said Shig Momoda of Seattle, through his tears. “It’s been an emotional day for me.”

For Mits Takahashi, it brought back memories of battles in Italy’s Apennine mountains, where Nisei vets were ordered to take out entrenched German machine gun nests atop sheer peaks.

“The Division couldn’t do it in six months. We were given one week to take (a peak) and we did it in 24 hours,” recalled Takahashi. “It brings back so many memories, some of them I’ve been holding back,” he confided.

Steve Odoi came to represent his late father, Hiroshi Odoi. He was pushing his uncle, Mas Odoi of Edmonds in a wheelchair. All three are veterans.

“It was emotional,” said the younger Odoi. “These vets never lost faith in America.”

Was it worth the sacrifice?

“Yes it was,” said Ted Yasuda of Seattle, without hesitation. “It was an honor to serve my country.”

For more information, read more on the U.S. Army website.

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