This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and American veterans of the war have been holding commemorations. A gathering in Los Angeles brought back memories for Japanese Americans who served while their families were held in internment camps.
The commemoration in the Los Angeles Little Tokyo neighborhood honored Japanese American veterans who served in combat, construction and intelligence units, while the families of most were held in camps on the West Coast for the war’s duration, even though six in 10 of the internees were U.S. citizens.
U.S. Army veteran Yoshio Nakamura had faith that the camps would one day be regarded as unjust.
“I also felt very strongly that we needed to show that we were patriotic Americans,” he said.
The camps closed at the end of the war, and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. government apologized for the wartime internment.
The commemoration in Little Tokyo took place at a monument and educational center that take their name from the motto of the largely Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The motto was “Go For Broke.”
Bill Seki chairs the center, and he says they went for broke, risking everything.
“Through their battles as a segregated unit, they ended up becoming the most decorated unit in army history for their size and duration,” he said.
Many of these veterans saw heavy combat. Tokuji Yoshihashi , known as Toke, helped break the so-called Gothic Line where the Germans made a stand in northern Italy. He served in the largely Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion.
Their efforts were described in a U.S. government wartime newsreel.
“Important and decisive battles, and each time, these men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd combat Team have been right out in front,” the narrator said.
“The Germans were entrenched in there pretty heavily, Yoshihashi said. "And I remember, they called for air support, and the most beautiful sight I ever saw was four P47s [U.S. planes] come in and they rocketed and machine gunned the German position, and that helped us break through.”
Some immigrant families had relatives on both sides of the conflict. Ken Akune and his older brother served in the U.S. army while two younger brothers in Japan were in the Japanese military. He knew he could meet one of them in combat.
“What would you do if you met him in a field and he has got the gun for you? You know, at that point you start to think, well, it is survival," he said. "But the point is, I never let that thing bother me at all.”
After the war, the brothers faced each other in Japan.
“And they stood up and we stood up. We were ready to go at it, but my dad was there and he said, hey, the war is over," he said. "So after that time, we never talked about it.”
Many of these veterans lost good friends, whose names are inscribed on the monument. It has meaning for veteran Don Miyada.
“It signifies to me the sacrifices of many good men,” he said.
He says this monument, and commemorations like these, ensure that their sacrifice will not be forgotten.