Gold and bronze tributes to honor area Japanese-American World War II veterans

Senate OKs congressional medal; Plans moving forward for local monument
By: Lien Hoang Journal Correspondent
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As plans progress to honor Japanese-American veterans with a bronze monument, they might be getting sooner recognition in gold. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to confer the Congressional Gold Medal on Japanese-Americans who fought in World War II. It would go collectively to the majority-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service. “It raises a lot of good thoughts,” said Frank Kageta, who served in the 442nd and lives in Loomis. “The medal would be nice just for fact that the American people recognize that we were just as good as anyone else.” He remembers a time when that wasn’t the case — a time when “No Japs” signs dotted Placer County, a time when his parents were shipped off to an internment camp, and a time when the government declared him an enemy alien unfit, at least for awhile, to serve. “Ike didn’t want us and that kind of hurt,” Kageta, 90, said of General Dwight Eisenhower. For Placer County, the Congressional medal would pay homage to 116 veterans, three of whom are known to be alive, according to the county’s chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Rancho Mirage, now awaits approval of its congressional counterpart. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, who cosponsored the House version of the bill, said in a statement that the medal is “long overdue.” “These combat units faced the fiercest fighting of World War II and did so despite the fact that many of their families — all loyal American citizens or legal immigrants — had been interned in relocation camps in violation of their constitutional rights, solely because of their ancestry,” McClintock said. “This truly was the Finest Generation,” he said. Except for some words of encouragement to legislators from California, the Placer County JACL did little to lobby for the bills, according to the group’s treasurer, Ken Tokutomi. He said members on the JACL’s national level were the ones “out politicking” lawmakers. Instead, this latest boost is more of a happy coincidence for locals. “It’s very timely for us because we’re doing a bronze monument for all Japanese Americans who fought in World War II,” Tokutomi said. The memorial, “Rescue of the Lost Battalion,” would depict a soldier from the famed 442nd bolstering a wounded soldier of the 36th Division of the Texas Battalion. The PCJACL has raised nearly half of the $150,000 needed for artist France Borka to build the six-foot-nine statue at the Bill Santucci Placer County Justice Center. To that end, the Congressional medal could make Tokutomi’s work a bit easier. “It’ll bring the 442nd back into the public awareness,” said Tokutomi, who hopes to inaugurate the tribute by next June. “In presentations for the monument, oftentimes I have to explain who they were.” In addition to presentations to solicit donations, the PCJACL has sold maquettes and medallions and raised funds at a screening of “Valor With Honor,” a documentary about the 442nd. Currently, a compass sits in the sculpture’s place at the justice center, and a nearby street has been named “Go For Broke” to echo the 442nd’s motto. As Tokutomi put it, the gold medal — like the monument and the documentary — “would honor those of Japanese ancestry who fought so valiantly in war.”