From Outcasts to Ovation: California Senate Fetes 442 Veterans

July 13, 2018 • Feature, Homepage Feature, In-depth

The California State Senate commemorated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team on June 25 in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo: Go for Broke National Education Center)

A ceremony at the state capitol building marks the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Army’s 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

By P.C. Staff

Marking the 75th anniversary of the formation of the storied, segregated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, California’s Senate paid tribute to the mostly Japanese American World War II Army unit at the state capitol in Sacramento on June 25.

In attendance were eight Californian members of “the 442nd”: Masao Kadota, 94; Fernando Sosa Masuda, 93; Don S. Miyada, 93; Yoshio Nakamura, 92; Lawson Iichiro Sakai, 94; Sam Isamu Sakamoto, 93; Noboru “Don” Seki, 94; and Tokuji “Toke” Yoshihashi, 95.

Along with a resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Army regiment, the eight vets received a standing ovation from senators, staff and a full gallery of guests in the Senate Chambers of the state capitol building.

The heroes’ welcome was quite a contrast to the treatment Japanese Americans received before and after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor in the then-territory of Hawaii.

First-generation Japanese immigrants were already proscribed from owning land and becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. After the U.S. declared war on Japan, Japanese Americans who were already serving in the military were removed from active duty. Japanese Americans who attempted to volunteer to serve in the military were denied after being classified as enemy aliens.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) recalled how California’s Senate had once considered a resolution that would have led to the firing of all California state workers of Japanese ancestry.

With anti-Japanese sentiment already pervasive in California, the attack on Pearl Harbor would lead to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 of Feb. 19, 1942, which forcibly removed from the West Coast nearly 120,000 U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens into 10 primitive concentration camps located in remote parts of the country.

“Today, the 442nd’s values of loyalty, patriotism and selflessness remain as relevant as in 1943,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “They fought for freedom and social justice — helping to lead the way for the civil rights movement, integration of the U.S. military and greater opportunities for all Americans.”

Toni Atkins warmly greets Yoshio Nakamura. (Photo: Pauline Yoshihashi)

Atkins praised the combat history of the 442nd, which included eight major military campaigns and its “rescue of the Lost Battalion,” which saw the 442nd save about 200 fellow American soldiers at the cost of more than 800 casualties in the Vosges Mountains in France in October 1944.

Underscoring how the 442nd remains the most highly decorated military unit in U.S. history for size and length of service, Pan noted that its record includes 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal.

The 442nd began after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack when members of the University of Hawaii’s ROTC formed a group known as the Varsity Victory Volunteers, which was the nucleus of what would become the 100th Battalion, which preceded the 442nd and was a segregated Army unit mostly comprised of Nisei or second-generation Japanese Americans from Hawaii. It was a stand-alone unit that was later absorbed by the larger 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was formed after March 1943 with the need for more soldiers in the war effort and included mainland Nisei volunteers and draftees from the 10 U.S. concentration camps.

After the comments from Atkins and Pan, as well as the standing ovation by the Senate, Nakamura, who served in M Co. (the heavy weapons unit) and fought in the battles that helped break the Nazis’ Gothic Line in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, said, “As I was standing there, I was thinking about all of the guys who should have been there but couldn’t be. I’m not a hero . . . but I’m grateful that the 442nd was honored for its accomplishments. It’s a testament to all of the Nisei who served.”

Echoing that sentiment was A Co. member Miyada, whose late brother, Charles, was also a veteran of M Co.’s heavy weapons unit. Miyada also fought in the battle to break the Gothic Line.

Sakai, who served in E Co. and participated in all of the 442nd’s campaigns in Italy and France, including the liberation of Bruyeres, France, was seriously injured during the effort to rescue the Lost Battalion. He was wounded four times during his service; he went on to receive a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Kadota, who served in E Co., participated in the Gothic Line campaign and his honors include the Congressional Gold Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster, France’s Legion of Honor and a Bronze Star.

Miyada was in A Co. and served in Epinal, France. He was part of the effort to break the Gothic Line.

Sakamoto was incarcerated along with his family at the Tule Lake WRA Center in California and was drafted in September 1943. He served in I Co. and was part of the 442nd’s April 1945 assault on the Gothic Line; he went on to receive a Combat Infantry Badge.

Yoshihashi and his family were incarcerated at the Gila River WRA Center in Arizona, when he and his brother, Ichiro, were drafted into the Army. He served in A Co. and also participated in the campaign to break the Gothic Line.

Don Seki gives the “shaka” sign with his daughter, Tracey Seki-Matsuyama. (Photo: Pauline Yoshihashi)

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Seki joined the 442nd and was assigned to L Co. and fought in the campaigns to liberate Italy and France. He was seriously injured after the battle to save the Lost Battalion and would receive the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal and France’s Legion of Honor award.

Fernando Sosa Masuda autographs “The Go for Broke Spirit” a book of Nisei veterans’ portraits by Shane Sato. (Photo: Pauline Yoshihashi)

Masuda was assigned to F Co. and would receive the Congressional Gold Medal with his fellow Nisei.

The eight 442 vets were joined by family members and staff from the Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles. Representing the GFBNEC was Mitchell T. Maki, its president and CEO.

“This is not just a great Japanese American story, but a great American story,” Maki said. “Thank you for honoring our vets and recognizing their contributions to our democracy.”

Also joining the delegation was Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

[Editor’s Note: The ceremony can be viewed online by visiting http://senate.ca.gov/media-archive and clicking on “Senate Floor Session, Monday, June 25th, 2018.”]

Mitchell T. Maki, president and CEO of Go For Broke National Education Center (extreme left), and Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum (extreme right), with 442nd veterans honored by the California Senate in Sacramento on June 25. Pictured (front row, from left) are Masao Kadota, Don Seki and Sam Sakamoto and (back row, from left) Don Miyada, Tokuji Yoshihashi, Yoshio Nakamura, Lawson Sakai and Fernando Sosa Masuda. (Photo: Pauline Yoshihashi)

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