[caption id="attachment_5353" align="aligncenter" width="520"] 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)[/caption]
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.
It was great to see the Nisei heroes of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team receive Congressional Gold Medals on Nov. 2 in Washington DC (watch the C-Span feed of the ceremony), and the media coverage of the long-overdue honor and recognition of these men's patriotic achievements over 60 years ago.
Of all the media coverage, though, hats off...
President Obama today signed legislation at a White House ceremony to collectively award the soldiers of the 100th battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team the Congressional Gold Medal. Individual members had been awarded Medals of Honor but as a group, this is the first time the bravery of the mostly Japanese American troops of the 100th/442nd has been acknowledged with such an honor.
Outside of Japanese American and Asian American circles, and probably military history buffs, I bet not many people know of these soldiers. The 100th/442nd, nicknamed the "Go for Broke" regiment, is the most highly decorated military unit for its size and length of service in the history of the United States.