January 14, 2012

Northwest Nisei soldiers honored for WWII service

Posted in 442nd RCT, Congressional Gold Medal, Japanese American Incarceration tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:55 pm by minidokapilgrimage

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017242879_goldmedal15m.html

Northwest Nisei soldiers honored for WWII service

On Saturday, in a ceremony with speeches, music and other tributes, 90 Nisei soldiers from the Pacific Northwest were given honors for their World War II service.

By Nancy Bartley

Seattle Times staff reporter

William Yasutake was a prisoner, along with his parents, when he decided to fight for the country that held them merely because they were Nisei — Japanese Americans.

Other Nisei were shot in battle, charged through minefields, translated documents and performed such wartime heroics as part of the U.S. Army 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service that they became legendary — a fighting force sought throughout the war.

On Saturday, in a ceremony with speeches, music and other tributes, 90 Nisei soldiers from the Pacific Northwest were given honors for their World War II service.

Eighteen were awarded the Bronze Star for valor and all 90 received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award.

The awards came more than a year after President Obama signed legislation to collectively honor the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Japanese Americans serving in the Military Intelligence Service.

Sporting burgundy caps with Nisei emblems, they sat solemnly on the stage at Meany Theater at the University of Washington, some clutching canes, all now in their 80s and 90s.

The auditorium was packed with family and friends who rose for a standing ovation as Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli introduced the group, and U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, and Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, called them heroes who changed the course of history.

“Most of us can’t imagine the bigotry following the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Chiarelli said. The Nisei “were under a heavy cloud of suspicion, yet … they volunteered to serve not knowing if their country would accept them again.”

After the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, suddenly friends and neighbors — especially on the West Coast — considered those with Japanese ancestry as possible enemies. In the name of national security they were rounded up and imprisoned in camps. Yasutake and his family, from Seattle, were among them.

At first, Japanese Americans weren’t allowed to join the military. That later changed, and some Nisei — a Japanese word meaning “second generation” — were drafted from the internment camps, while others volunteered. Yasutake was one of the volunteers.

Now 89, and a Bothell resident, he speaks about the war days reluctantly. He was a medic who was wounded but still cared for others. He received two Bronze Stars for combat in Italy and France.

“You don’t think much of it at the time. It came naturally. You worry more about the others than you do yourself,” he said after the ceremony.

Some of the veterans had already been honored in a November ceremony in Washington, D.C., but the majority had not. So Seattle’s Nisei Veterans’ Committee sponsored the ceremony, not just for the veterans but so the local community could be made aware of their accomplishments, said Stanley Shikuma, a committee member.

For family members, the ceremony was a moving tribute.

“I’m just very proud,” said Steven Chihara, who saw his grandfather, Tosh Chihara, receive a gold medal. “I had heard about the things they had to go through back then. It’s hard to imagine it today.”

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.

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