HANAPEPE — More than 60 years have passed, and the veterans of the 100th Battalion are still teaching us lessons, said Tony Elliott of the Kaua‘i Veterans Administration.
Elliott was the keynote speaker at the 63rd Annual 100th Battalion Memorial Service yesterday at the Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery.
The event is celebrated the closest Sunday to Sept. 26, the date the 100th Battalion suffered its first casualty, Shigeo “Joe” Takata, fighting in Salerno, Italy.
This was the first battle the 100th Battalion faced following its formation after the Pearl Harbor attack, and following a week’s fighting, the battalion was successful in capturing Benevento, a significant railyard and road intersection.
Ken Morikawa, the son of veteran Muggsy Morikawa, spearheaded the event as he has done for several years after his father became unable to coordinate the event.
“I remember when there were 11 of them,” Elliott said, noting that the number of 100th Battalion veterans attending the service had dwindled to seven yesterday.
Besides a moment of silence to honor the passing of veterans during the year, survivors of veterans had an opportunity to remember their loved ones as Morikawa read off a list of veterans from Kaua‘i, pausing as family members came forward with flowers to complete a wreath of remembrance and honor.
“It’s important for the sons and daughters of the veterans to continue the legacy left behind by the veterans,” Morikawa said. “At first, I thought it was going to be a small service, but look at all the people.”
In addition to the surviving members of 100th Battalion veterans, other veteran organizations as well as veterans from the 442nd Infantry unit turned out to remember their comrades in arms.
Rocky Sasaki, officiating the opening prayer, offered a harmonica solo of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” after receiving a request from a person in the audience.
Jack Hada and Fusetsu Miyazaki, both veterans of the 100th Battalion, discretely wiped their eyes as Brandi Yamamoto belted out “Wings Beneath My Wings” in tribute to the heroism demonstrated by the Nissei, or second generation Japanese, soldiers.
“The men and women of the Armed Forces are the true heroes, and we must show that we care and we remember,” Elliott said.
In the case of the 100th Battalion, the Nissei battled not only the enemy, but prejudice and hatred at home as they left for battle with some of their families in internment camps.
Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Elliott said there were more than 5,000 Japanese serving in the Armed Forces.
Pearl Harbor changed that because following the Pearl Harbor attack, the country’s leaders thought the Japanese were unfit for service and discharged them.
More than 110,000 Japanese people were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, and in Hawai‘i, all Japanese soldiers were discharged from the Territorial Guard.
These young men who had something to prove became the heart of the 100th Battalion which, through its deeds of accomplishments in World War II, became known as “The Purple Heart Battalion.”
In June 1943, 1,300 Nissei formed the 100th Battalion after being allowed to serve, and the next month the battalion adopted “Remember Pearl Harbor!” as its slogan. They also became known as the “One Puka Puka,” pidgin for 100.
The Nissei went on to prove its courage when it suffered 78 KIA, or killed in action, during its first week of battle. By January 1944, only 800 soldiers of the original battalion were left.
Elliott said it was not until 1952 that Nissei parents earned the right to be naturalized as citizens, and in 1986, 20 veterans’ deeds earned an upgrade to Medal of Honor status, many of the medals being presented posthumously.
In 1988, the president signed the Civil Liberties Act in which the government apologized for the injustices done to the Japanese people following Pearl Harbor.
When tragedy struck the nation in 2001, Elliott said the Japanese were the first to respond against profiling.
“Six hundred fifty of them (100th Battalion veterans) never came home,” Elliott said. “But, they are home. They fought to prove that they are Americans, and they continue to teach us lessons today.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.