WWII Japanese-American soldiers’ service honored

By:  Tom Vogt
Source: The Columbian

Two Vancouver veterans were among the Japanese-American soldiers who left their families behind in World War II internment camps to join some of the most decorated military units in the nation’s history.

Their sacrifice and courage was saluted Wednesday when Eisaku “Ace” Hiromura and Teruo Yamashita joined hundreds of other WWII veterans in Washington, D.C., for an award ceremony at the Capitol.

At the event, the Congressional Gold Medal was presented collectively to the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Japanese-Americans in the Military Intelligence Service.

The award is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Many of them signed up while those then-young men and their families were behind barbed wire. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, U.S. officials rounded up almost 110,000 Japanese-Americans and sent them inland to internment camps.

In an April visit to Columbia River High School, Hiromura recalled the experience.

He told students in Dave Douglas’ U.S. history class that he was in the middle of his junior year at Portland’s Washington High School when the war started. The family’s first stop was north Portland’s livestock exposition center, the initial holding pen for local families of Japanese origin. Ace, then 17, said he realized how serious things were when a brother’s friend pedaled his bicycle to the site to see how things were going. Guards made sure he never repeated it, threatening the boy with arrest — or worse.

The Hiromuras were shipped to the Minidoka camp outside Twin Falls, Idaho. Camp detainees were let out to help farmers with their sugar beet and potato harvests, he said, and didn’t remember any overt racism or maltreatment from the locals.

After being drafted, Ace joined the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese-American unit that battled through Italy during the final Allied surge in 1945. The 442nd, and the 100th Infantry that was part of it, wound up with more medals — including Purple Hearts for combat wounds — than it had soldiers. Their soldiers received 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 559 Silver Stars, more than 5,000 Bronze Stars and 9,486 Purple Hearts.

The wounded included U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, now serving a ninth term in the Senate. Inouye, who was part of Wednesday’s ceremony, lost his right arm in Italy.

Hiromura was involved in the fight in which Inouye was wounded, he told students in Douglas’ U.S. history class.

In 10 months of combat, more than 700 soldiers in the 442nd were killed or listed as missing in action.

Other Japanese-speaking Nisei soldiers were sent to the Pacific as intelligence officers and linguists.

Yamashita and Hiromura were among 33 Nisei veterans from 13 Washington cities attending the event Wednesday, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

In the release, Cantwell noted that “they went on to become one of the most highly decorated group of veterans in United States military history. These soldiers fought for what this country could be, even while their families lived in internment camps. In the process, they paved the way to victory in WWII and a brighter future for all.”

About 1,250 people attended the ceremony, according to news reports. About a quarter of them were WWII veterans.