Traveling exhibit highlights Japanese-American veterans
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Six-year-old Herbert Yanamura used to carry a note written in English when he started school in Kona asking permission to use the bathroom.
"Japanese was the only language my family spoke," said Yanamura, now 88.
It was during World War II that Yanamura used his skills in Japanese as a linguist, interpreter and interrogator with the Military Intelligence Service to help win Allied victories in the Leyte and Okinawan campaigns.
Yanamura will be among 16 veterans from the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and MIS from 10 cities who will attend the unveiling of the exhibit "American Heroes: Japanese American WWII Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal" in New Orleans on Saturday.
The traveling exhibit includes the original Congressional Gold Medal displayed in a glass case along with three exhibit banners that provide background on the 100th, the 442nd RCT, the MIS and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Yanamura attended the November 2011 ceremony in Washington, D.C., when the medal was presented to representatives of the three World War II units.
"It is a very high, unexpected honor that represents the efforts of all AJAs (Americans of Japanese ancestry) for their collective effort in the war," he said.
He added that he suspects the congressional award was bestowed as an apology to the Japanese-Americans who were classified as "enemy aliens" after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Yanamura enlisted in the 442nd in 1943, interrupting his senior year at Konawaena High School.
"They were half-dozen of us from Honaunau with a total of about 40 from Kona," he recalled.
During basic training, Yanamura helped soldiers in his squad keep in touch with loved ones by writing letters in Japanese. On the encouragement of a fellow soldier, who admired Yanamura's skill with the Japanese language, Yanamura volunteered for and was assigned to the MIS in 1943.
The exploits of the MIS were classified until the 1970s. The members now are credited with translating intercepted Japanese dispatches and serving as interpreters to help achieve victory in the Pacific.
Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairwoman of the National Veterans Network, said the medal will be exhibited at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans during opening festivities at the new U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. It will remain on view through Feb. 17 before continuing to Honolulu and Bishop Museum on March 9.
She said her organization started planning with the Smithsonian Institution two years ago. The federal law authorizing the medal requires that it be exhibited throughout the country before making the Smithsonian its permanent home.
Gordon "Nick" Mueller, president and chief executive officer of the National World War II Museum, said the exhibition was made possible in part by the strong support by Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who played a lead role in securing a $20 million congressional grant in 2010.
Inouye, who received the Medal of Honor for his action as a member of the 442nd, videotaped a welcome address for the new pavilion and an oral history before his death on Dec. 17, Mueller said.
Irene Hirano-Inouye, Inouye's widow, will attend Saturday's events.
Also present will be Megan Madeira, a senior at Mililani High School and winner of the Hawai‘i History Day contest, sponsored by the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities in concert with National History Day. The 2012 competition, "A Salute to Freedom," asked students across the country to identify what they felt was their state's biggest contribution to World War II.
In her essay, Madeira concluded: "The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was one of two battles: facing the Germans in Europe and eradicating prejudice at home. World War II had far-reaching consequences, affecting Hawaii through the actions of the 442nd not only during the war, but long after. World War II became a catalyst for events of social and political movements in Hawaii. This was only possible through the 442nd, whose heroism, bravery and sacrifice are a true testament to their motto, ‘Go for Broke.'"
The 100th Battalion and the 442nd RCT are among the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history, having earned 21 Medals of Honor, more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars and seven presidential unit citations. The MIS was honored with a Presidential Unit Citation in 2000.
More than 19,000 Japanese-American soldiers served in these units during World War II.