LOS ANGELES (May 5, 2011) – As the news came that the most sought-after terrorist and mastermind of the attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, was brought down by the U.S. military; it was a reminder of another time at the end of the Second World War when approaching Allied Forces prompted the Nazi dictator who ordered the extermination of millions of Jews to take his own life rather than be captured and face justice.
It was during this time that a group of young men, all U.S. citizens, who fought for the same democratic principles: freedom, liberty, and justice.
May is national Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and it is a fitting time to remember the legacy of the Japanese American soldiers. Though many of them were unjustly held in internment camps with their families, they defended America during WWII because they believed it was their patriotic duty as citizens.
“When the time came for enlistment, I was ready, my faith and loyalty restored, stronger, firmer and unwavering; I volunteered,” said Sgt. George Sawada in a letter written to his father nine weeks before being killed by a sniper in Italy on July 5, 1944 “That I have retained my faith through this trying period and emerged what I am, a loyal American citizen, I owe to your understanding [dad].”
Sawada was a member of the Medical Detachment of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), an all-Japanese American segregated unit that served in the European theater during World War II. He was born in Hawaii, grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with aspirations to be a doctor before being uprooted to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho.
The 442nd RCT’s motto was “go for broke” give it your all, and that is what they did. Sawada’s unit, the 100th Battalion, was known as the “Purple Heart Battalion” after fighting in the Monte Cassino campaign. The 100th became the 1st battalion of the 442nd and together fought in major battles in Europe, including France, liberating the town of Bruyeres, and rescuing 211 Texans of the 141st Texas Regiment, 36th Division while sustaining hundreds of casualties in what has become known as the “Battle of the Lost Battalion.”
It was also in France, on the fighting line in the Rome to Arno campaign, that Sawada was shot and killed.
The 442nd RCT succeeded in its mission, like the military operatives did on April 30, 2011, and celebrated the end of a difficult war. They not only helped to exterminate tyranny in Europe and the Pacific, but also opened doors of opportunity for minorities, especially Asian Americans, on the home front. For its size and length of service, the 442nd RCT became one of the most highly decorated units in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Their heroes’ welcome and recognition come long overdue, some 68 years later. But it will come. Later this year, Sgt. Sawada and all the other Japanese American veterans of the 100th/442nd RCT and Military Intelligence Service (MIS) who served in the Pacific Theater will receive a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress.
“All of us in some way are beneficiaries of this important story and we owe a debt of gratitude to the men of the 100th, 442nd and MIS for their sacrifices and valiant service to this country,” said Christine Sato-Yamazaki, granddaughter of a 442nd veteran and chairperson of the National Veterans Network who led a coalition of organizations nationwide to ensure the Medal is bestowed upon this group of veterans. “Because of the actions they took, we enjoy a life of equal opportunities, freedom and privileges that some from their generation did not have. As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we salute the veterans and hope to spread awareness of their story as we know this year, with the Congressional Gold Medal recognition upon us, we have an opportunity and responsibility to educate the public.”
Preparations are underway to commemorate the Congressional Gold Medal in late fall. Veterans who served in these units are encouraged to attend the special events to be held in Washington, D.C. Widows and next of kin of deceased members are also eligible. Free flights to and from the ceremony will be hosted by Honor Flight. For more information, visit www.nationalveteransnetwork.com.
The National Veterans Network is a coalition of 25 Japanese American veteran and civic organizations whose mission is to serve the interests of Japanese American World War II and subsequent war veterans. To donate or register or for additional information about the upcoming celebration activities, visit the National Veterans Network web site at www.nationalveteransnetwork.com or contact Christine Sato-Yamazaki at 310-418-4692 or [email protected].