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Another View: Remembering heroes of war and at home

By: Ken Tokutomi, guest columnist
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Watching on national news, I was proud that friends of mine, Northern California residents and WWII veterans Frank Kageta, Norm Kamada, Leo Hosoda and Jim Iso, were honored with fellow veterans in Washington, D.C. These men received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal which was awarded to all Americans of Japanese ancestry who fought in the second World War. It has been long overdue that we recognize the sacrifices that these men endured in loyal service to our country, while their families were placed in concentration camps in desolate areas, treated like criminals, surrounded by barbed wire fences and attended by armed guards. In the late 1980s I had the opportunity to work with Frank Kageta as co-chairman of the Placer County Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, JACL, on its redress committee. Our task was to educate the public and gain support for redress legislation that apologized to the Americans of Japanese ancestry and their parents, some of whom were denied citizenship, and who were interned during the war. In researching this issue, I found out that Placer County was notorious for its anti-Japanese sentiment. Frank told me a story that really bothered me: While wearing his uniform, Frank – a returning veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team – tried to get a haircut in Auburn and was told “No Japs allowed.” As I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, those generations did not talk of the camps and their war experience. The Japanese have a word, “koman,” which translates as “to suffer in silence.” I believe that until National JACL addressed this issue and brought it out in the open, those generations were unable to cleanse their souls of this shame. Congress passed the necessary legislation that apologized to these men and woman and provided redress by awarding $20,000 each to all remaining internees still alive. When President Reagan vacillated before signing this legislation in 1988, one of the national JACL Board members reminded the President of his own past commentary. In 1945 the City of Santa Ana refused to allow a soldier of the 442nd who had been killed in action to be buried in their city cemetery. Captain Ronald Reagan spoke these words: “The blood that has soaked into the sand is all one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way — an ideal. Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.” Northern California Chapters of JACL have been working for more than two years on a larger than life size monument to honor the World War II era Americans of Japanese ancestry. The monument will recognize the valor and bravery shown by the 442nd soldiers in rescuing more than 200 soldiers from the 36th Division Texas Battalion, who were trapped by the enemy in the mountains south of France in October 1944. But this monument is dedicated to more than the 442nd regiment. It will create a lasting memorial for those men who fought in the 442nd and the 100th Battalion, those who served in the Pacific theater in the Military Intelligence Service, and those who were forced from their homes to suffer the shame and humiliation of internment. The memorial site will inform future generations about the bravery, sacrifices, and injustice inflicted on these loyal Americans. My generation of Americans of Japanese Ancestry owes much to our parents and grandparents, who instilled in us the Japanese work ethic, prodded us to pursue higher education and encouraged us to become solid citizens and leaders in our communities. These characteristics inspired us to become a successful generation of Americans. I have always wanted to do something that would honor that generation who contributed so much and provided the environment that allowed me to be successful. This project allows our generation and our society to honor these generations in a lasting memorial that is dedicated to their honor! For more information go to our website at placerjacl.org. Editor’s note:?Ken Tokutomi has led an effort to construct and place a bronze statue to memorialize Japanese-American soldiers of WWII in Placer County. He was recently selected as one of 18 “Extraordinary Asian Pacific Americans of the Year” by the Asian Pacific Newspaper. He is also the chairman of the Auburn Salvation Army Advisory Board. ------------------ What: Auburn American Legion Veterans Day Parade When: 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11 Where: Starts at Chamber of Commerce building, 601 Lincoln Way, Auburn, and heads down Main Street. Medals will be handed to as many women veterans as possible; smaller lapel pins will be sold to everyone for a $5 suggested donation.