The chapter holds a virtual Memorial Day program and reminds all that nothing can erase the achievements and sacrifices made by Japanese American service members.
By Holly Kawase Kirkman
More than 400 people from across the contiguous U.S. and Hawaii, and even as far away as France and Japan, united via Zoom and Facebook livestream on May 25 to honor the sacrifices of Nisei veterans in a one-of-a-kind memorial service sponsored by JACL’s Northern California Western Nevada Pacific District.
While the shelter-in-place mandate made the traditional plan for the event — ordinarily co-sponsored by the Golden Gate Nisei Memorial Post #9879 VFW and held in Section R of the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif. — impossible, NCWNPD and a talented tech team from Yuen Designs came together proudly to create a unique program that gave community members near and far the opportunity to learn, reflect and honor a Japanese American legacy together.
Steve Okamoto, JACL San Mateo chapter president and vp of the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee, emceed the service program, opening with a warm welcome preceding the “Pledge of Allegiance” and “Star Spangled Banner,” played by Todd Yuzuriha of the Minidoka Swing Band.
Next came a solemn invocation by Rev. Henry Adams, delivered from the hondō of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, where he is resident minister. The observance then held a moment of silence in memory of the men and women who died serving in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, as well as all veterans and active duty service members defending our country with honor and dignity.
“For the Nisei soldiers,” Okamoto reminded viewers, “their motto, ‘Go For Broke,’ meant that they would put everything on the line to win the war against the Germans in Europe, as well as the war against racial prejudice at home.”
Because the memorial service coincided with the 75th anniversary commemorating the liberation of the French towns of Bruyères, Belmont and Biffontaine from German occupation by the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team in October 1944, the program reached across the ocean to mark the occasion with a video message of friendship and gratitude from former Bruyères Mayor Yves Bonjean.
Career educator and former incarceree Marielle Tsukamoto spoke of her trip to visit the Hill 555 Monument in Bruyères, reflecting on the sacrifices and struggles of the Nisei soldiers and how their story is an important learning opportunity for future generations.
Dr. Shinye Gima, a WWII MIS veteran, closed the first half of the program with a veteran’s perspective on commemorating this solemn occasion in the era of COVID-19, emphasizing for us all that while the pandemic will change our lives, it cannot erase the things we achieve, celebrate and honor. Todd Yuzuriha then returned to the screen for a traditional military closing performance of “Taps.”
To memorialize the special Sister City relationship Hawaii has between Bruyères and Honolulu, the second educational half of the program was sponsored by the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Organization in Honolulu and led by volunteer Jayne Hirata.
Hirata’s program showcased the many diverse ways that the Japanese American World War II veterans are remembered and honored, not only in Hawaii or the mainland U.S., but also across the world.
The exciting and thought-provoking series of offerings included excerpts from the KHON2 news special “Back to Bruyères: The Legacy of the 100th” and a live interview with producer/editor Pamela Young; a re-enactment video from BCo/100Bn/442RCT Reenactment Group of Maizuru, Japan; a memorial video and message from Dr. Mitch Maki of the Go For Broke National Education Center; excerpts from JN Production’s documentary “Dream Big! A Postwar Success Story: The Nisei Soldiers of WWII” and remarks from Col. Keith Horikawa regarding the contemporary ongoing legacy of the 100th Battalion; and a showing of the “Go For Broke” music video and interview with musician and educator Kaze Jones. Closing reflections and words of thanks from Yoshio “Yosh” Nakamura, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran, concluded the program of remembrance.
By hosting this event virtually, the NCWNP District was able to include individuals, video and music that would not have been possible in an in-person program.
“The program was a fitting and moving Memorial Day for our community,” one participant said. Another viewer mentioned, “The Memorial Day event had me using my tissues too! It was wonderful.”
To view the recorded program on YouTube, visit tinyurl.com/y88tjnbu.