(Pictured) Former Staff Sgt. Frank M. Wada, who served in the 442nd/100th Regimental Combat Team during World War II, was an honored guest at the San Diego Gala. Photos: Willie Sakai

The City of San Diego proclaims Sept. 19 as ‘Never Forget’ Day during the San Diego JACL gala, which also honored Nisei Veterans and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

By Tiffany Ujiiye, Assistant Editor

Chilled wine glasses and spirits tapped one another throughout a special evening dedicated to the 100th and 422nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service and Nisei veterans of World War II and their families. All were gathered at the Marriott Mission Valley on Sept. 19 as the San Diego Japanese American Citizens League presented “Never Forget,” a gala commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. Also featured was a special preview of Lane Nishikawa’s newest documentary “Never Forget.”

Special recognition was given not only to the Nisei veterans who served during WWII but also the San Diego JACL, as the chapter was presented a proclamation from the City of San Diego proclaiming Sept. 19 as “Never Forget” Day.

“We give thanks for the Nisei generation and those who served our generation so well and made history so well,” said San Diego City Councilmember Chris Cate, who gave the proclamation for Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Remembering the Japanese Americans and never forgetting that history and generation is critical.”

The proclamation comes after a long-standing partnership between the Asian American community in San Diego and local politicians. San Diego JACL worked with then-Assemblyman Marty Block when Block was the primary co-sponsor of the Assembly Bill that created Fred Korematsu Day in California.

“I know that San Diego’s entire Asian American community is very proud to have a Filipino American on our City Council,” Former JACL National President and current Pacific Southwest District Governor David Kawamoto said. “We are extremely grateful to State Sen. Marty Block for the wonderful proclamation he provided for our gala.”

Actress Tamlyn Tomita and Lee Ann Kim, executive director of Pacific Arts Movement and a longtime news anchor for KGTV-10, the ABC affiliate in San Diego, warmly welcomed the evening’s attendees.

The gala also welcomed performances by Stacy Yamamoto-Squires, who sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and multiplatinum songwriter Harold Payne, who played “Quiet Heroes.”

“Since 1990, the U.S. War Department estimates that we lose 1,100 World War II veterans each day. Tonight, we have 33 Nisei veterans represented by their families,” Kim said.

Veterans and their families included Joseph and Ernest Coz, George Furuya, Dr. Shigeru Hara, Fred M. Hashiguchi, Henry Hashiguchi, Leo Hashiguchi, Toru Charles Iguchi, Martin Lloyd Ito, Masami Iwataki, Harry Hareo Kawamoto, Satoshi Kida, Yasuichi Jim Kimura, Minoru Koide, James Kondo, Koji Konishi, James Suikichi Matsumoto, Shigeru Moriyama, Thomas Mukai, Isamu Okamoto, Kiyoshi Okamoto, Noboru Sakaguchi, Fred Segawa, Harry Shinagawa, Roy Tadashi Someda, Abe Tsukasa Takehara, Jack Tanabe, Joseph Tanabe, Robert Tanabe, Henry Tani, Edward Urata, Ted Teruo Wada, George Chiyoji Yano and Giichi Yoshikawa.

A moment of silence was given to the brave soldiers and their families, and a   special recorded message from Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, was played. Adm. Harris is the first Asian American to achieve the rank of admiral and the highest-ranking Japanese American in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In keeping with the theme,  JACL San Diego Chapter President Michael Kurima stressed the importance of the gala and to never forget that “the heroics of the 442 and the incarcerations we endured during the war may just be stories from a movie or a book to the younger generation.” He went on to say that the “gala and the documentary that Lane is putting together are pieces of a program that will help inform our children and our children’s children on the sacrifices our community has made and the bravery and allegiance that we have shown.”

Actor-activist George Takei also gave the veterans and guests a special message from New York. “[My] spirit joins all of you at the gala, commemorating the end of the World War II. On booth coasts there in San Diego and here in New York, we pay tribute to the veterans and support the courage,” said Takei.

Takei went on to remind everyone how the veterans “opposed unjust internments. They are the forgotten heroes . . . and we recognize the great legacy of the amazing Nisei generation. Tonight, we pledge we will never forget.”

The gala’s theme echoed filmmaker-actor Nishikawa’s newest documentary “Never Forget,” which is currently in production. Attendees were given an exclusive preview of the documentary, which highlights local San Diego Japanese American veterans, their families and the families of those veterans who have passed away.

Nishikawa has written plays and films about the Nisei soldiers for the majority of his career, and he has attended big reunions across the nation looking to remember and honor those who served.

“It is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to them for their courage and sacrifice; time is not on our side,” Nishikawa shared with the P.C. “It is a chance to share their legacy with the generations that have followed.

It also is a way that we can ensure that grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand, reflect upon and own that legacy, so that they can pass it on to future generations.”

Guest Speaker Chris Ward presented the San Diego JACL Chapter with a special placard. Ward serves as the chief of staff to State Sen. Marty Block, representing the communities of the Third City Council District and most of the City of San Diego.

“Never Forget” Committee Chair Robert Ito received the proclamation onstage from Ward. “We pay special respect and are greatly indebted to the U.S. Armed Forces who fought World War II to secure the principal of thousands of Japanese Americans,” Ward said while holding the placard onstage, stating the resolution to recognize profound gratitude to the Nisei generation.

Howard Ou, field representative of Congressman Scott Peters, gave another proclamation to the San Diego JACL Chapter to “honor the past and look bravely into the legacy of our future on the city, state and federal level.”

Amongst the evening’s notable guests was “Allegiance” Producer Wendy Gillespie, who made a special announcement: Attendees would receive a special discount for tickets to the play “Allegiance,” staring Takei.

“Allegiance” is the highly anticipated play inspired by the true-life experience of its star, Takei, and is scheduled to premiere on Broadway this fall.

Gillespie asked guests to also support “Sponsor a Student” (www.inspirechangebroadway.org), which allows young students to watch the historical play.

JACL National President David Lin also gave a special message. “It’s a special pleasure to be here in beautiful San Diego. Thank you for having me here, and on behalf of JACL National, we extend a very warm welcome to the gala in commemoration of our Nisei veterans,” said Lin. “Founded in 1929, JACL is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the U.S. JACL has always been in the forefront of championing the rights not just for Japanese Americans but all Americans. JACL San Diego has been doing an amazing job furthering the JACL mission.”

Lin went on to give special thanks to David and Carol Kawamoto, Kurima and the San Diego Chapter’s members and volunteers.

JACL National representatives included JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, Pacific Northwest District Governor Sheldon Arakaki, Pacific Southwest District Governor David Kawamoto and former National President Ken Inouye.

Local politicians and honorary committee members in attendance that night included California State Sen. Marty Block; City of Coronado Mayor Casey Tanaka; San Diego County Board Supervisor Vice Chair Dave Roberts; Armita Pedramrazi, representative of Congresswoman Susan Davis; Lee Hernandez, senior field representative of California State Assembly Member Shirley Weber; Sal Giametta, chief of staff for Supervisor Ron Roberts; Honorary Consul General for Japan in San Diego Kate Leonard; Arthur Nishioka of Kyocera International; Wendy Urushima-Conn of the Asian Business Association San Diego; and Gary Himaka of VFW Post 4851.

Kurima also thanked his chapter and the grant sponsors who provided support for both the evening’s gala and the “Never Forget” documentary. The Pacific Southwest District JACL Trust Fund Grant and the National JACL Legacy Fund Grant were major supporters.

“The decision our Nisei soldiers made over seven decades ago paved the way for Japanese and Asian Americans, and we are still feeling the effect today,” Nishikawa said. While the gala was for only one evening, Nishikawa’s “Never Forget” continues production to inform and educate the children and grandchildren of the Nisei soldiers. “They are becoming the Nisei soldier’s voice,” he said. “They will never forget.”