Japanese-American Vets Receive Bronze Star Medals

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2011 — In a cer­e­mo­ny here yes­ter­day more than 66 years after hos­til­i­ties end­ed in World War II, 40 Amer­i­cans received the Bronze Stars they deserved for com­bat ser­vice in that con­flict.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no pins a Bronze Star on Medal of Hon­or recip­i­ent George Joe Saka­to at a Nov. 1, 2011, cer­e­mo­ny in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in which 40 World War II sol­diers from all-Japan­ese-Amer­i­can units — the 442nd Reg­i­men­tal Com­bat Team, the 100th Infantry Bat­tal­ion and the Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Ser­vice — were award­ed the Bronze Star.
U.S. Army pho­to by C. Todd Lopez
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The Japan­ese-Amer­i­can sol­diers fought as part of the 442nd Reg­i­men­tal Com­bat Team, the 100th Infantry Bat­tal­ion and the Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Ser­vice. Army offi­cials decid­ed that all sol­diers who wore the Com­bat Infantry Badge from World War II were owed a Bronze Star; some, how­ev­er, nev­er received theirs.

Get­ting such an award, in many cas­es, depend­ed on “how good your clerk was, … and some of the clerks were not that great,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Peter­son. It’s real­ly a mat­ter of poor paper­work that the sol­diers had to wait so long to get their Bronze Stars, he added.

The gen­er­al orga­nized a three-day recog­ni­tion of Japan­ese-Amer­i­can sol­diers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The high­light has some 800 of those vet­er­ans being hon­ored with the Con­gres­sion­al Gold Medal dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny at the U.S. Capi­tol today. But for the sol­diers who gath­ered yes­ter­day at a posh hotel, the day was about final­ly get­ting the Bronze Star they had earned.

At the event, 31 of those sol­diers were present to have the medal pinned on their chest by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no. Anoth­er nine Bronze Stars were pro­vid­ed to the fam­i­ly mem­bers of sol­diers who could not attend or who have died.

“It’s amaz­ing to get a star like this,” said Don K. Masu­da, one of the recip­i­ents of the award. The for­mer sol­dier attend­ed the event with his wife, his daugh­ter, and two of his grand­sons. He said he’s led “a pret­ty good life” since leav­ing the Army, which has includ­ed being a co-own­er of a ship­ping busi­ness in his native Hawaii, and also work­ing six years for the postal ser­vice.

He served as an infantry­man in World War II, in both Italy and France, as part of the 442nd RCT. He earned two Pur­ple Hearts dur­ing his ser­vice. He said he’s been wait­ing “a pret­ty long time” to have a Bronze Star.

Fel­low 442nd RCT sol­dier George Joe Saka­to was also at the award cer­e­mo­ny — both as a recip­i­ent of the Bronze Star and as a speak­er. Saka­to is one of 21 Japan­ese-Amer­i­can Medal of Hon­or recip­i­ents to come out of the 442nd RCT and 100th Infantry Bat­tal­ion.

On behalf of the 33,000 Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans sol­diers who served in World War II, Saka­to thanked Con­gress for the Con­gres­sion­al Gold Medal they are receiv­ing today. He also thanked his coun­try for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn that hon­or.

“We also thank the gov­ern­ment, which allowed us to serve in the U.S. Army to defend our coun­try and to prove our loy­al­ty to Amer­i­ca,” Saka­to said.

Odier­no reit­er­at­ed for those at the event the great­ness of the Japan­ese-Amer­i­can sol­diers’ ser­vice and the ser­vice of all who served in World War II, call­ing them “the great­est gen­er­a­tion.”

But the gen­er­al also touched on the tragedy those sol­diers faced that oth­er sol­diers did not. Many of their fam­i­lies back home were locked away in camps and brand­ed as ene­mies of Amer­i­ca, even while their sons served to defend the country’s ideals.

“From the shock of Pearl Har­bor, and out of fear and prej­u­dice, 120,000 per­sons of Japan­ese ances­try were sent to intern­ment camps,” Odier­no said. “But what’s incred­i­ble to me is that many of them did not allow that grave injus­tice of the intern­ment to stand in their way. They remained stead­fast in their com­mit­ment to their coun­try, and vol­un­teered to serve a nation in com­bat — a self­less act of devo­tion.”

Those Japan­ese-Amer­i­can sol­diers, he said, served as infantry­men, lin­guists, mil­i­tary intel­li­gence spe­cial­ists and artillery­men.

“Over 33,000 Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans served in the war,” Odier­no said. “And of those, over 13,000 served in the 442nd, and earned over 9,000 Pur­ple Hearts.”

The 442nd became the most high­ly dec­o­rat­ed unit in the Army’s his­to­ry, Odier­no said. The 442nd and the 100th Infantry Bat­tal­ion togeth­er earned sev­en Pres­i­den­tial Unit Cita­tions, two Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Plaques, 36 Army Com­men­da­tion Medals, and 87 Divi­sion Com­men­da­tions. Indi­vid­u­al­ly, sol­diers earned 21 Medals of Hon­or, 29 Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Cross­es, one Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Medal, more than 354 Sil­ver Stars, and more than 4,000 Pur­ple Hearts.

“Togeth­er, they define the ethos that we all live by today: ‘Nev­er leave a fall­en com­rade,’ ” Odier­no said.

The expe­ri­ence of World War II pro­vid­ed a les­son about tol­er­ance, the gen­er­al said.

“The les­son of the Japan­ese-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence is that fear and prej­u­dice make our coun­try weak­er, not stronger,” Odier­no said. “Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans, like oth­ers, have more than earned their place in our coun­try, in our Army, and in our soci­ety — a melt­ing pot to include African-Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ic-Amer­i­cans and today, Arab-Amer­i­cans.”

About 240 vet­er­ans attend­ed the Bronze Star event. Anoth­er 100 spous­es of deceased vet­er­ans also attend­ed, as did about 500 fam­i­ly mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing sol­diers.

Peter­son, who has Japan­ese ances­try, said the event was both to hon­or those sol­diers who served, and to edu­cate Amer­i­ca.

“It’s edu­ca­tion­al for our nation to know that a group of sol­diers and a group of Amer­i­cans, who because of the mass hys­te­ria when the impe­r­i­al mil­i­tary of Japan attacked Pearl Har­bor — were clas­si­fied ene­my aliens,” Peter­son said.

About 120,000 Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans were round­ed up, Peter­son said, and put into any of 10 intern­ment camps across nine states.

“Out of those camps came a demand, by 65 per­cent of them — 65 per­cent of 120,000 internees — to serve their coun­try in a time of war,” he said.

Those sol­diers who served in units like the 442nd RCT, the 100th Infantry Bat­tal­ion and the Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Ser­vice, Peter­son said, aver­aged num­ber three indi­vid­ual awards for hero­ism.

“They are the most dec­o­rat­ed unit in U.S. mil­i­tary his­to­ry of its size and dura­tion of the con­flict,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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