HANAPEPE — There were five of them, each one with a cane to help support their frail figures, silent except for some soft-spoken words.
But their salute was crisp and strong despite the heat from the rapidly warming morning sun on Sunday at Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery.
Five veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion were joined by a host of dignitaries, veterans, family members and spouses at the 66th Memorial Service commemorating not only fallen veterans of the 100th Battalion, but other veterans of all wars, said Manny Corregedore, a veterans advocate.
Sept. 25 marks the Sunday closest to Sept. 29 when the 100th Battalion suffered its first Killed in Action. Sgt. Shigeo “Joe” Takata died on Sept. 29, 1943, after being shot by German soldiers.
“When I first spoke at this service 10 years ago, I sang the ‘One Puka Puka,’” Corregedore said. “If I had known Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. was going to be here, I would have brought the words so he could sing it.”
Corregedore said it was heartwarming to see the audience of young adults, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of these veterans participate in keeping the legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion alive.
“I can think of no other men who deserve it more than these Gentle Giants,” Ken Morikawa, son of a 100th Btn veteran, read from a letter penned by Janet Hardwick Brown and Susan Hardwick, daughters of Sgt. William Hardwick of The Lost Battalion.
“I would never have known my father, but for them; my children would never have known their grandfather, but for them; their own children would not have been able to walk our streets with dignity and resolve, but for them.”
Morikawa choked back his emotions, continuing to read Hardwick’s letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer supporting the gold medal for the World War II Japanese American veterans.
“They set about to prove their loyalty to this country, and in so doing, saved the lives of hundreds of men, liberated countless villages throughout France and Italy, leaving their inhabitants with renewed love and respect for the American soldier, and brought honor to this country, themselves and their families. Their lessons in loyalty, humbleness, courage and resolve still resonate in our society today.”
The five veterans and some who are in care homes and hospitals will also be treated with a visit from a contingent of about 40 people from Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France, Thursday, when the French delegation arrives in Hawai‘i to commemorate the 60th anniversary of a sister city relationship with Honolulu.
They will be joined by veterans and families of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service and other veteran groups as the French come to pay a visit to the homes of their heroes.
A Congressional Gold Medal ceremony will be held Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C., almost seven decades after the heroic deeds and sacrifices of these troops, honoring members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd RCT and the MIS for their dedicated service in WWII, states a release from Congresswoman Mazie Hirono.
“This November, we will hold a long-awaited ceremony which pays tribute to the service and unquestioned loyalty of these heroic WWII veterans,” Hirono said in the release. “These soldiers faced wartime challenges with honor and dignity not only on the battlefields of Europe, but back home during uncertain times.”
President Barack Obama signed legislation on Oct. 5, 2010, collectively granting the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the 100th Btn, the 442nd RCT and the MIS, the units being made up of men mostly from Hawai‘i.
“I was with several of my former comrades in arms in the Oval Office when the President signed the recognition, making it official,” Sen. Daniel Inouye said in a release.
“We appeared to be in a happy, jovial mood, but I am certain that all of us recognized the emotional caliber of the moment. We knew that the recognition we were receiving was the result of lost lives and bloodshed.”