Congress to honour Japanese-American soldiers
WASHINGTON IN the days following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Lawson Sakai learned how much the world had changed for Japanese-Americans in 1941. Sakai and some of his buddies drove to the local Navy recruiting station and tried to enlist. While his white friends were quickly accepted, Sakai was told that he was considered an “enemy alien” and could not join.
Eventually, they ended up serving as part of three distinct military units during World War II.
Nearly 70 years later, lawmakers voted to award those veterans the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour given by Congress.
A ceremony marking the occasion will take place Wednesday at the Capitol.
In all, about 19,000 Japanese-Americans served in the three units being honoured: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
Sakai served in the 442nd, which consisted of volunteers, about two-thirds from Hawaii and the rest from the mainland.
The 442nd experienced some of the most horrific fighting in Europe and became the most decorated unit in US military history for its size and length of service.
In just 10 months of combat, more than 700 were killed or listed as missing in action.
Sakai, 88, was wounded on four different occasions and would receive a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He said the years following the war were difficult and that he often drank to deal with the brutality of the war. Now, he said he’s able to take pride in his peers’ accomplishments .
“We certainly deserved the record that we produced. It was done by shedding a lot of blood. As far as I know, we didn’t give up an inch of blood. We were always attacking and the Germans were always on the higher ground,” he said.
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. After the attack, they guarded Hawaii from a possible land invasion. They subsequently underwent training on the mainland and hit the beaches of Salerno, Italy, in September 1943.
Even as they fought in Europe, many Japanese- American troops had family members who would spend much of the war in US internment camps. American officials, citing concerns that those of Japanese ancestry could be security risks during war with Japan, sent men, women and children to camps around the country.