Intern Update, Japanese American

Press Conference – Congressional Gold Medal Tour

Click for more photos from the press conference. Photos by Marie Ramos.

By Madeline Sumida, Fall 2012 intern

As a Yonsei and grandniece of a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran, I leapt at the opportunity to attend a press conference held on September 13, 2012, to publicize the national tour of the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal.  Awarded to Japanese American veterans of World War II in 2011, the medal will travel to seven museums in seven cities until it comes to its permanent home at the National Museum of American History’s “The Price of Freedom” exhibition. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program will work with the National Veterans Network to generate a museum iPad app, social-learning website, and curriculum that focus on the primary “character values” of the Japanese American servicemen: courage, respect, humility, perseverance, compassion, and citizenship.

Members of Congress, curators, philanthropists, and five of the honored Japanese American veterans came to the press conference highlighting the collaborative efforts of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Veterans Network to educate Americans about the significance of the medal. During the conference, Senator Daniel Inouye (who lost his right arm while fighting with the 442nd) pronounced, “it takes a great and morally strong country to apologize.” By extending the highest civilian award for achievement of lasting significance and contribution to the nation, Congress acknowledges the exceptional service of more than 19,000 Japanese American soldiers who fought for their country in spite of the U.S. government’s violation of their constitutional rights and those of their imprisoned family members behind-barbed wire.

The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team fought some of the most ferocious battles of World War II. It is perhaps best known for rescuing “the Lost Battalion,” an American battalion trapped by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains in 1944. During the Vosges campaign, the Nisei unit lost more than half of its men. Nisei members of the Military Intelligence Service proved to be invaluable interrogators and translators of intercepted intelligence and helped to build post-war relations between America and occupied Japan.

At the conclusion of the conference, photographers captured the five proud veterans as they stood beside the medal, the face of which shows the Nisei soldiers of World War II and the motto of the 100th/442nd, “Go For Broke.” The opposite side depicts the insignias of the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. I was honored to meet Kelly Kuwayama, a 442nd veteran whose medals include the bronze star, the silver star, and the purple heart and was touched to see older Capitol building staff members approach him after the conference to thank him and shake his hand.

The Japanese Americans of my father’s generation maintain great pride in the achievements of the Nisei soldiers and often send each other word of any events honoring these distinguished members of the community. I know that my own family will be thrilled to hear about the Smithsonian’s mission to bring the Nisei story of World War II to a wider audience, so that these heroes may be an inspiration to American children of all races.

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