More than 70 years ago, at the height of World War II, one regiment of the United States Army fought not only against the Axis powers in central Europe, but also to exonerate themselves from prejudices that led their families to be incarcerated back home. Today, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans, is known as the most decorated unit in American history for its size and length of service—a distinction that was celebrated in Seattle on Sept. 17 at an event honoring their sacrifices while also celebrating two nations that have reconciled to become the closest of allies.
Members of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces, along with members of the broader Seattle community came together at this Japan-US Military Program (JUMP) event to honor the Nisei Veterans who served in the segregated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), during World War II.
The event, held by the Nisei Veterans Committee in collaboration with the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington and with support from the Consulate General of Japan in Seattle, included American and Japanese forces, officials with Joint Base Lewis McChord, and veterans from the area who have served in Japan. The event also coincided with the annual U.S.-Japan Rising Thunder training exercises at the Yakima Training Center, and service members who had been participating were among those in attendance.
The event began with tours among the Japanese-American Memorial Wall and through the well-curated Medal of Honor Museum with WWII-era memorabilia from Nisei veterans within the NVC Memorial Hall. NVC members brought the displays to life with a plethora of wartime stories illustrating the Nisei veterans who lived them.
As the main event began and about 100 people in attendance gathered, Master of Ceremonies Allen Nakamoto explained that the aim of the Nisei Veterans Committee is to honor and remember the past, and to educate the future—a goal that was reflected at the event.
Major General Thomas S. James Jr., commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division and Task Force Bayonet, called the experience of joining veterans at the event “humbling.”
“Those of us that are currently serving understand the importance of the sacrifice of those that came before us,” he said. “I want to thank all the veterans here for serving, for it is only because of your service and sacrifice that we can serve today.”
He also recognized the importance of events like these to “build strong bonds and solidify the partnership we have with our Japanese allies.”
Lt. General Takashi Motomatsu, commanding general of the JGSDF’s 8th Division, Western Army, said training together like they had been doing in Rising Thunder is meaningful to both the friendship and strategic goals of both forces. Being such close allies, he added, is a testament to how far the two countries have come since the end of WWII more than 70 years ago.
Admiral Dennis Blair, USN (ret.), now the Chairman and CEO at Sasakawa USA, said the complex history that the two countries share is even more amazing given that the two allies now join together to defend peace, prosperity, and democracy.
“We believe that we must, and we can, live and defend those fundamentals,” Blair said. “We need to continue to support the powerful U.S.-Japan alliance which, I think, is key to the kind of world that we want our children to live in.”
The event also featured a video presentation from Nisei Veteran Sam Mitsui, who explained why “Good Things Grow from Horse Manure” while recounting his story of the Japanese-American experience during WWII. Closing out the event was an uplifting Okinawan-style Eisa Taiko performance by Okinawa Kenjin Kai Taiko that got everyone on their feet.
Major General James’ comments on the Nisei veterans perhaps best summed up the feelings of those in attendance at this special event:
“The story of the Nisei is an amazing story of loyalty and love of country, as well as resilience, perseverance and courage,” he said. “These Japanese-Americans set the conditions for our military to realize how pointless the policies of segregation had been. Nevertheless, they served of our nation with distinction and the heavy price paid by Japanese-Americans, both in war during World War II, and by their family members back in the United States, should never be forgotten. If you look at the ranks of any of our formations today, you would never know that things were otherwise, which is a testament to the Nisei sacrifice.
“Today, we honor the Nisei veterans in attendance of the 100th Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service (an organization of MI personnel and interpreters that belonged to the 442nd) and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The unit’s motto was “Go for Broke,” and you did, leaving it all on the battlefield, with the 442nd earning over 9,000 Purple Hearts and eight Presidential Unit Citations, making it the most decorated unit of its size and length of service.”
• Adm. Dennis C. Blair, USN (ret.), chairman and CEO, Sasakawa USA
• Maj. Gen. Thomas James Jr., commanding general, 7th Infantry Division
• Lt. Gen. Takashi Motomatsu, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force
• Mr. Rick Takeuchi, commander, Nisei Veterans Committee
• Mr. Sam Mitsui, Nisei Veteran
• Consul General Masahiro Omura, Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle
• Mr. Tay Yoshitani, chair, Japan-America Society of the State of Washington
• Mr. Dale Watanabe, executive director, Japan-America Society of the State of Washington
• Mr. Peter Kelley, President, National Association of Japan America Societies
• LtCol. James Kendall, USMC (ret.), Director of the JUMP Program and Fellow at Sasakawa USA
Event summary by JUMP Communications Manager Christa Desrets
Photos by JUMP and courtesy Japan -America Society of the State of Washington
2023 The Japan U.S. Military Program (JUMP)
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