Iraq-bound soldiers honor Japanese-American WWII veterans
The Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division honors the aging members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese-American unit attached to the 34th during World War II. The 442nd became one of the most decorated in U.S. military history even though the families of many of its soldiers had been sent to internment camps.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In an International District meeting room, walkers and crutches rested next to tables topped with sandwiches and cookies.
There, in the offices of Seattle's Nisei Veterans Committee, aging Japanese-American members of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team broke bread on Friday with far younger counterparts — national guardsmen bound for Iraq.
Though separated by generations, they are united in history.
The Minnesota National Guard's 34th "Red Bull" Division paid tribute to the 442nd, the mostly Japanese-American unit that had served under the division's command during some of the toughest fighting in World War II.
"It's a real honor," said Tosh Okamoto, 83. "Even after 60 years, they still recognize the association between our two units."
The division, with about 1,000 Minnesota-based soldiers, just finished two months of training at Fort Lewis before deploying for Iraq, starting next week.
Commemorative coins were presented. A proclamation from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was read, declaring April 10 as Nisei Veterans Committee Day. A documentary was shown, detailing the history and impact of the 442nd and its 100th "Nisei" Battalion.
"We just felt we had to be here for these guys," said commanding officer Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, among the brass attending the ceremony.
It has been more than 60 years since the soldiers of the 442nd earned distinction as the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, given its size and length of service. The feat — including 21 Medals of Honor — is all the more notable considering the circumstances: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many of their families had been herded into detention camps.
The so-called "Go For Broke" unit suffered 600-plus casualties, with more than 9,400 wounded. As President Clinton said at a June 2000 event for Asian-American Medal of Honor recipients: "Rarely has a nation been so well-served by people it has so ill-treated."
After the war, many Nisei found they were unwelcome in veterans groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Undaunted, they helped form Nisei Veterans Committee, which made Friday's lunchtime brotherhood all the more special.
The meeting had come about by chance: Vietnam veteran Ted Yorita, a former Marine, had been at Fort Lewis for a gathering of color guards when he took a break at the local burger joint. A few tables away, something familiar caught his eye.
It was a patch he knew well, on the shoulders of several lunching 34th Division soldiers. Yorita, a member of the Nisei Veterans Committee, had to ask: Had they heard of the 442nd?
Which, it turned out, was like asking if these guys had heard of their own uncles.
One phone call led to another, and on Friday, the Iraq-bound soldiers honored men such as Kim Muromoto, who was there in April 1945 when the 442nd helped break the Germans' impenetrable "Gothic Line" high in the Italian mountains. "The Allies couldn't penetrate the line," Muromoto said. The breakthrough marked the end of the war in Europe.
The unattached 442nd, which incorporated the famed but depleted 100th "Nisei" Battalion, had bounced around without a home for a bit before bonding with the 34th Division for good amid the final push of the war. "We all had admiration for the 34th's bravery and courage," said Frank Nishimura, 85. "We had to live up to that standard."
The victory at Italy's Mount Folgorito was among several campaigns that distinguished the unit throughout 1944 to '45, including the fighting at Anzio Beach, the liberation of Jewish prisoners at Dachau and the legendary "Rescue of the Lost Battalion," an Army division trapped behind German enemy lines in France.
For the older veterans, it was a chance to say thanks and to recall the bonds they still share with the 34th. "It feels good that I can actually thank them myself," Nishimura said. "It's a different generation. But I'm confident they can live up to their predecessors."
Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or email@example.com
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