Denver’s Medal of Honor recipient Joe Sakato is second from the bottom on the left; the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is second from the top on the right. (Courtesy USPS)
At our local supermarket the weekend before Veterans Day, veterans were handing out little red poppies to pin on passersby’s lapels as tributes to generations of war dead (it’s a reference to John McCrae’s 1915 WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields”).
I thanked the vet for giving me one and was heading in to shop when a scruffy-looking guy came up and growled that I was supposed to pay for the poppies.
I stammered as he walked away that I was going to give some change on my way out, but the man who gave me the poppy shook his head and said there was no donation required. He apologized for the second man’s behavior.
I realized that the scruffy guy was probably reacting to my ethnicity. Sigh. He probably thought I was a “Damned Jap” or a “Gook” and didn’t deserve to be wearing a poppy.
I should have yelled back at the scruffy guy that my dad was an American soldier and I was wearing this poppy for him.
On Veterans Day, I was happy to see a TV news report about George “Joe” Sakato, a 92-year-old Nisei from Denver who traveled to Washington DC to be honored as part of the release of a set of stamps paying tribute to World War II Medal of Honor recipients.
In 2012 when the US Postal Service announced the new stamps, the plan was to have portraits of the 12 WWII veterans who still alive featured on the sheets surrounding the stamps, and the men would attend the unveiling this year. Three have died since the project was announced, including another Nisei soldier, the late Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye. An accompanying booklet lists all 464 WWI Medal of Honor recipients.
Both Joe Sakato and Daniel Inouye fought in the celebrated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. The combined battalion, made up mostly of Japanese Americans, many conscripted from the American concentration camps where their families were still imprisoned, remains to this day the most highly decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. So take that, scruffy guy!
Inouye went on to an illustrious public career and passed away last December. Ironically, Sakato is a retired US Postal Service employee.