Museum exhibit honors Nisei veterans
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Military Intelligence Service veteran Glenn Masunaga’s eyes filled with tears as he gently opened a velvet box where he keeps a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal presented to him and fellow Japanese-American World War II veterans in a 2011 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Masunaga and veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion and Military Intelligence Service were collectively honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at the ceremony for their service and loyalty to the U.S. during World War II.
“My mother country remembered me and gave me this,” said Masunaga, 87, a nisei born and raised in Wahiawa. “I was proud to be a soldier in the Army and do whatever my mother country wanted me to do.”
Masunaga previewed the exhibit “American Heroes: Japanese-American WWII Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal,” which will officially open today at the Bishop Museum. The exhibit will be featured at the museum’s Castle Memorial Building through April 14.
Bishop Museum is one of seven museums across the country that will feature the exhibit throughout the year before it’s permanently housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Retired Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee and Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, will be among the speakers at the exhibit’s opening ceremony. Ng’s wife, President Barack Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, will be an honored guest at the event.
Blair Collis, president and chief executive officer of the Bishop Museum, said while the exhibit is a national story, “it’s really a Hawaii story.” Many of the nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion and Military Intelligence Service were from Hawaii.
“Hopefully through it (the exhibit) we’re able to educate but mostly inspire future generations to understand what values these gentlemen represented at a time now where we’re losing them,” Collis said.
“That’s the role of the museum — to ensure that we tell the stories beyond the lives of these gentlemen so they’re never forgotten,” he added.
Featured items in the exhibit include the Congressional Gold Medal, which arrived in Honolulu a day late because of a snowstorm on the mainland. Luckily, the other items in the exhibit arrived in Honolulu on Thursday night. The exhibit began its national tour in New Orleans in January.
The single Congressional Gold Medal is encased in a glass display on the second floor of the Castle Memorial Building.
The history of the WWII soldiers is featured on informational boards throughout the exhibit.
Documentary screenings of the history of the decorated soldiers will also be available.
Yoshinobu Oshiro, 84, who also previewed the exhibit Friday, said he hopes younger generations will learn from it and spread word to their friends and family of the history of the Japanese-American soldiers.
Born and raised in Pearl City, Oshiro was an interpreter in the counterintelligence unit of the Military Intelligence Service, where he helped screen the civilian population in Kobe, Japan. He was later assigned to interview Japanese prisoners of war returning to Japan from the Soviet Union. Oshiro and other interpreters questioned prisoners of war at Maizuru, a debarkation point in Kyoto.
According to the National Japanese American Historical Society website, more than 6,000 students graduated from the MIS school and were shipped to every major combat unit in the Pacific, translating Japanese maps and technical manuals, combat orders and enemy diaries, and interrogating Japanese POWs. The website quotes Gen. Charles Willoughby, G-2 intelligence chief, as saying, “The nisei saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years.”