The Associated Press had a story this week on a Congressional Gold medal going on a nationwide tour to promote WWII history.
Herbert Yanamura is an American, born and raised among the coffee farms of Hawaii's Kona district. Yet the U.S. government branded him an "enemy alien" after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor because he looked like the invaders.
So Yanamura volunteered to join the Army to prove his loyalty.
Nearly 70 years later, that same government honored him and the thousands of other Japanese-Americans who served in World War II with one of its most elite rewards: the Congressional Gold Medal.
Starting this weekend in New Orleans, the medal is going on a yearlong national tour that will spread the stories of the veterans, their sacrifices and their triumphs. The tour is organized by the Smithsonian in partnership with the National Veterans Network, a coalition of Japanese-American veteran and civic organizations.
"For a lot of younger people, World War II is like ancient times," Inouye said in a telephone interview. "We have to remember that there are a lot of younger people who just have not been exposed to the story."
Congress last year awarded the medal collectively to men who served in three segregated units of mostly Japanese-Americans: the 100th Infantry Battalion — nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion because of the casualties it endured— the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. Besides these units, it was rare for Japanese-Americans to serve in other parts of the U.S. military.
Japanese-Americans were at first not allowed to serve, rendered ineligible for the draft because of their "enemy" status.
But in 1943, the government decided to allow some to volunteer.
The Army put out a call for 1,500 to come forward; more than 10,000 raised their hands.
Yanamura's homeroom teacher (also Japanese-American) told his class all 18-year-olds should volunteer to prove their loyalty.
"I went home from school and talked to my father. He said, without any hesitation, 'You must volunteer. You got to show your loyalty,'" Yanamura said.
He first joined the 442nd but switched to the MIS after realizing he would be more useful as a linguist than as an infantryman.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for using a loudspeaker to successfully coax 1,500 civilians and 150 soldiers in the village of Maehira to surrender during the Battle of Okinawa.
He never spoke much of his actions until recently, modestly saying "we really didn't do much." And he at first doubted whether he should be honored by the same award given to George Washington and other American heroes.
But he's come to accept the medal as an apology to men who risked their lives even though their country treated them as enemies and imprisoned their families in concentration camps.
"Despite all that, we still went ahead and performed outstandingly," he said. "From that standpoint, I guess, we should be thankful that the recognition has been made, though a long time later."
Yanamura, now 88, and Inouye will attend a ceremony opening the exhibition on Saturday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The medal will travel to museums in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Chicago and Houston over the next year.
To read the complete article, see:
CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL GOES ON NATIONAL TOUR
The medal wasn't pictured in the AP article, but I found more information in a Smithsonian press release from September 13, 2012.
At the conclusion of the tour, the Congressional Gold Medal will be on permanent display in “The Price of Freedom” exhibition at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The medal will be accompanied by an educational package with an iPad application, social-learning website and curriculum developed by the National Veterans Network in partnership with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. Centered on the character values associated with Japanese American veterans—courage, respect, humility, perseverance, compassion and citizenship—these materials will provide users with a constantly growing, social-learning community.
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service veterans by the U.S. Congress Nov. 2, 2011, in recognition of their exceptional service, sacrifice and loyalty to America. The Gold Medal represents Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
Commonly known as the “Go for Broke” regiments, the 100th/442nd is one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history, having earned more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars, seven Presidential Unit Citations and 21 Medals of Honor. The MIS, whose highly specialized contributions helped hasten the end of the war, was honored with a Presidential Unit Citation in 2000. More than 19,000 Japanese American soldiers served in these units during World War II.
The national tour of the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal is made possible by the support of AARP, Comcast/NBC Universal, Cole Chemical, Southwest Airlines and Pritzker Military Library.
Below are images of the medal and information about the design. Can anyone tell who the U.S. Mint artists were? Hint: look for designer initials on the medal.
The medal's obverse (heads side) design features Nisei (second-generation Americans of Japanese ancestry) Soldiers from both the European and Pacific theaters. The 442nd RCT color guard is depicted in the lower field of the medal. The inscription “Go For Broke” is the motto of the 442nd RCT, and was eventually used to describe the work of all three units.
The medal's reverse (tails side) depicts the insignias of the 100th INF BN, 442nd RCT, and MIS. The 100th INF BN insignia features a taro leaf and a traditional Hawaiian helmet, both of which are emblematic of the unit's Hawaiian roots. The "Go for Broke" Torch of Liberty shoulder patch represents the 442nd RCT. The sphinx, a traditional symbol of secrecy, represents the MIS insignia
To read the complete Smithsonian press release, see:
Smithsonian Announces Seven-City Tour of Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to Japanese American World War II Veterans
Wayne Homren, Editor
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