WASHINGTON – Thousands of Japanese Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II and became some of the most decorated soldiers in the nation’s history were given an overdue thank-you from their country Wednesday when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor.
Nearly seven decades after the war’s beginning, Congress awarded three units the Congressional Gold Medal. In all, about 19,000 Japanese Americans served in the units honored at a ceremony Wednesday: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
“This has been a long journey, but a glorious one,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who lost his right arm fighting with the 442nd and was one of the honorees Wednesday.
About 1,250 people attended the award ceremony at the Capitol. About a quarter of those present were former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s.
Hiroshi Kaku, originally from Hawaii, served in the 442nd and his older brother, Haruo, served in the 100th. He said he volunteered for the Army because he had something to prove.
“We wanted to show American citizens that we loved our country,” Kaku said. “We were born and raised here.”
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion. Nearly 110,000 were sent to internment camps.
About 6,000 Japanese-Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service, on the front lines and behind the scenes, translating cables and interviewing prisoners of war. Many also served during the postwar occupation of Japan, providing a bridge between Japanese and American officials. Even as they fought in Europe, many Japanese-American troops had family members who spent much of the war in the U.S. internment camps.
The 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. One of the units attached to the 442nd was the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was comprised exclusively of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii who had been drafted prior to Pearl Harbor.