Poster design by Nigel Briggs, National Museum of American History
By Noriko Sanefuji (Curatorial Assistant) and Christine Chou (intern)
This year’s Day of Remembrance (DOR) was special for many reasons. Not only is it the 70th anniversary since the signing of Executive Order 9066, the action that led to the imprisonment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, it was also to honor the Japanese American WWII veterans that were recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The program began with a keynote speech by Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki (watch the video clip above or download his speech here). He reflected on the roles of Japanese Americans who volunteered in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. General Shinseki recognized their merit in receiving the award and stated that their legacy shows what it means to be an American to future generations. He said:
“In all my years in the military, I can ﬁnd no better, no more compelling, and no more inspiring story of what it means to be an American than the stories and battle histories of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. They were premiere warﬁghting units ranking among the very best in U.S. military history. The legacy of those who served in those units is a tradition of patriotism, loyalty, courage, honor, dedication and sacrifice that’s as old as the American Revolution. Their’s is an American story.”
General Shinseki’s keynote speech was followed by a film highlighting the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony. Afterward, there was a panel discussion that included Grant Ichikawa, MIS veteran; Gerald Yamada, Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) president; Christine Sato-Yamazaki Chairperson, National Veteran Network; and Doug Sterner, author of Go For Broke. The panel was moderated by Franklin Odo, former director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. Everyone provided insights about the significance of the Congressional Gold Medal and the process of recognizing Japanese American WWII veterans.
Day of Remembrance Recap
Dr. Odo began the discussion by asking the panelists: “What does the Congressional Gold Medal mean to you?” Mr. Ichikawa recalled his experiences in the MIS and reflected on how proud he is to be a recipient of the medal. Ms. Sato-Yamazaki expressed her feelings on how the award ceremony represented the completion of a difficult, two-year effort to obtain congressional approval for the medal. Mr. Sterner explained how the medal was the highest honor bestowed by Congress. According to Mr. Yamada, the award gives JAVA the chance to make the Nisei soldiers’ legacy a living story, rather than just a historic one.
Museum visitors viewed the actual Congressional Gold Medal up close during the event. Objects made inside the barbed wire camps during WWII were also on display at a nearby education cart. Artifacts were brought out of storage for DOR, and experts were also available to answer questions from the visitors at the education carts. Representatives from the U.S. Mint were there to discuss how the medal was created.
Interns Christine Chou (Smithsonian APA Program) and Erin Anderson (National Museum of American History) talk to a visitor at an education cart. Photo by Donald Hurlbert, NMNH
Smithsonian APA Program intern Christine Chou designed a second educational cart as an interactive way of learning about daily life in internment camps. Objects on display included typical mess hall food, tools from working life, school artifacts, leisure items (like a baseball), and craft materials used for art projects. Historical photos complimented the objects to provide a more complete picture of camp living conditions. Everyone was encouraged to pick up and touch the objects. Some of the most popular items were the medical tools, including a stethoscope, head mirror, and elbow splint, which visitors were free to try on and use.
Another popular item, the dog tags of a Japanese American World War II veteran, belonged to Grant Ichikawa, who was interned before joining the military. As visitors held his dog tags, they were told that Mr. Ichikawa was actually in the museum that day to tell people about his experiences, and it was a quietly powerful moment. For visitors and volunteers at the cart that day, having the opportunity to interact with these artifacts helped foster a deeper connection to our national history.
Related Podcast: History Explorer: Japanese American Internment and WWII Service
Listen to the Podcast (MP3 file)
View more photos
Curatorial assistant Noriko Sanefuji interviews Grant Ichikawa, a U.S. veteran who enlisted after being relocated to a Japanese American internment camp with his family in 1942. Allowed to join the army after a need for interpreters, Mr. Ichikawa served the country proudly. In 2011, he and other veterans were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service.
Curatorial assistant Noriko Sanefuji interviews Grant Ichikawa at the National Museum of American History, February 2012.
We also utilized the National Museum of American History’s TalkBack Boards program to invite the museum visitors to post their comments.
Today the U.S. Mint will be presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Japanese Americans to honor their service during WII. How do you think America should honor its veterans?
You can join the online conversation by clicking here.