Kaua‘i heroes honored at CGM ceremony

LIHU‘E — Nearly 70 years after volunteering to fight for their country, veterans of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service who live on Kaua‘i and their families were able to touch the Congressional Gold Medal, which was bestowed to the three combat units by Presidential decree in November.

Co-chaired by Judi Murakami and Susan Honjiyo, veterans and families of veterans from the honored units were presented replicas of the CGM, which was distributed in Washington, D.C. during the Nov. 7 ceremony.

 The Kaua‘i CGM ceremony was led by the Kaua‘i state legislative team of Sen. Ron Kouchi, Reps. Derek Kawakami, James Tokioka and Dee Morikawa, and Gen. Robert Lee who arrived with a contingent of personnel from the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment to assist with the presentations following remarks by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center in Lihu‘e.

“This is a moment I could never have dreamt of while I was growing up during World War II,” Akaka said. “The discrimination bothered me while I was in Congress. How could the people who I played with when I was young and invited me into their homes be treated like the enemy?”

Akaka said more than 1,000 surviving veterans attended the Washington, D.C. ceremony in November and it brought tears to his eyes to see how far our nation has come in 70 years after these veterans volunteered to fight for their country.

Sen. Inouye said in 1924, Congress passed a law that stopped all immigration from Japan. The law also prevented the Japanese who immigrated from becoming naturalized citizens, his father having to wait until 1952 to become a citizen after the law was repealed.

“In 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were declared ‘4C,’ or enemy alien,” Inouye said. “They could not put on the uniform of the armed services, they could not be trusted.”

At the same time 4C was passed, the law set up 10 concentration camps, two being located on O‘ahu.

“But the boys fought for the right to fight for the country and the rest is in the books, the units becoming the most decorated units in military history with 18,000 individual awards, including more than 9,000 Purple Hearts and seven Presidential Citations,” Inouye said. “In 1988, the country apologized. There are not too many countries in the world who will admit they are wrong and apologize and in 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal law saw more than 19,000 CGM issued, making this the largest group honored. Those resting must be pleased their efforts are finally recognized.”

This recognition is such a distinct honor because each recipient — living or deceased — is such a remarkable American patriot, because it is so well deserved, and because it finally puts things right, said Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs in a letter read by Ken Morikawa, son of 100th Btn Veteran Muggsy Morikawa.

“Our honorees join the ranks of other recipients of the CGM, among them George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and other special units like the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen,” Shinseki wrote. “These are the brave men who served and bled and gave me and every other American of Japanese Ancestry opportunities we might not otherwise have had.”

Shinseki’s letter offered his personal thanks to the “maginificent warriors of these historic units and their families,” as well as their example of dignity and honor.

“They returned to become ordinary citizens,” said Kouchi, who offered Hawai‘i State Legislature commendations along with Tokioka, Kawakami and Morikawa to the honored military units. “Citizens who became the pillars of our community. During a visit to a Japanese museum, tears filled my eyes after reading some of the letters mothers wrote their sons from concentration camps.”

Tokioka said not everyone could make it to the ceremony Wednesday, announcing the passing of veteran Harris Takiguchi last week.

“Memorial Day was two days ago, but we continue to remember,” Gen. Lee, who served on the Washington, D.C. committee, said. “We remember those who were left behind in Italy and France.”

He said there were those who are physically unable to make the trip to Washington, D.C., or to O‘ahu where another ceremony was held.

“We found out Washington, D.C. could not accomodate all who wanted to attend,” Gen. Lee said. “We decided to bring the ceremony to the people where more people attended the O‘ahu ceremony than in Washington. The ceremony on Kaua‘i is different from the other ceremonies in that Susan Honjiyo moved mountains to ensure not only the surviving veterans, but their families received medals.” Akaka tasked the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the veterans with keeping the legacy of their fathers alive.

“They made a contribution which will never be forgotten and now, 70 years later, are receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor,” Akaka said.

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