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03/06/2012
Japanese American WWII veterans receive Congressional Gold Medal
MONTEREY, Calif. – Thirty-five Japanese Americans were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal Sunday for their service to the nation during World War II.

Known as Nisei, for the Japanese words “ni” (two), and “sei” (generation), these second-generation Japanese Americans from central California served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, or the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during the war.

In 2010, Congress authorized the medal to be awarded to each of the aforementioned units, in recognition of their dedicated service during WWII. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States, and reflects Congress’ utmost expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.

The first presentation ceremony took place Nov. 2, 2011 in Washington, D.C., and subsequent presentations have since taken place around the country to honor local veterans who could not make it to Washington.

Some of the MIS veterans had studied Japanese at the MIS language school in Camp Snelling, Minn., the predecessor to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), and are considered DLIFLC alumni. The school’s assistant commandant, Air Force Col. Laura Ryan, personally presented each medal to the honorees or a surviving family member.

A spokesman read a statement from U.S. Representative Sam Farr, (D) 17th Congressional District of California, which Farr had introduced into the Congressional Record, “The original MIS … primarily comprised of Nisei second-generation Japanese Americans … faced crushing prejudice and discrimination in the United States during World War II, many of their family members suffered interment while they were serving their country.”

“MIS graduated 6,000 service members during WWII, to provide critical Japanese language capabilities to the American military. These brave service men and women provided translation, interpretation, and code-breaking services in the essential Pacific theater, which contributed significantly to our nation’s victory,” continued Farr’s spokesman.

The statement ended with a quote from General Charles Willoughby, Chief of Staff of Military Intelligence under General MacArthur, “The Nisei shortened the Pacific war by two years, and saved possibly a million American lives.”

Rep. Farr’s spokesman finished by reading a letter written by Speaker of the House John Boehner, “This regional celebration represents the thanks of a grateful nation. This proud honor is a testament to your selflessness, your selfless dedication, and unwavering loyalty as you fought a two-front war against prejudice at home, and fascism abroad.”

Although some veterans were too emotional to speak of their experiences, MIS veteran George Aihara summed up his feelings, “receiving this award was really an honor to me. I … feel that Congress has finally … recognized us for our service and loyalty.”

In addition to remarks by politicians and veterans groups, guest speaker Tom Graves reached out to the veterans and their families in attendance, “… you helped to integrate our Armed Forces. You proved how important foreign languages are to the military. You fought to reverse longstanding discriminatory laws at home. You allowed your parents to become citizens for the very first time.”      

Story and photos by:

Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette, Strategic Communications      

Photo 1: WWII MIS veteran Ben Umeda salutes during the singing of the National Anthem by the DLIFLC Air Force Choir at the beginning of the Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony at the Monterey Peninsula Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, in Monterey, Calif., March 4. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette)(Released)

Photo 2: (l to r) WWII Military Intelligence Service Nisei veterans George Tanaka and Ben Umeda watch as the DLIFLC Air Force Choir sings “America the Beautiful” to conclude the Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony at the Monterey Peninsula Chapter of the  Japanese American Citizens League, in Monterey, Calif., March 4. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette)(Released)

Photo 3: William Omoto, a WWII Nisei veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team salutes as the DLIFLC Air Force Choir sings the National Anthem at the beginning of the Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony at the Monterey Peninsula Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, in Monterey, Calif., March 4. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette)(Released) 
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