News: Ventura County sailors honor Nisei for Veterans Day
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Kim McLendon
ARLETA, Calif. - Sailors from Navy Operational Support Center Ventura County kick off Veterans Day celebrations by visiting Nisei World War II veterans at Nikkei Senior Gardens, Friday afternoon, Nov. 9. As part of the Spirit of ’45 event organized by VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and the Nikkei Senior Gardens to honor the life and history of the Nisei veterans of World War II.
The Nisei are Americans of Japanese descent. Men, women and children were moved to internment camps after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the U.S. entered World War II.
“Their inner strength demonstrated in an outward fashion makes them an integral part of the Greatest Generation,” said Chief Petty Officer Howard H Nelson Jr., assigned to NOSC Ventura County. “I consider it a tremendous honor to be able to meet these American heroes in person and pray that their wisdom rubs off and stays with us.”
Master Chief Petty Officer Terry Delacruz, command master chief, NOSC Ventura County, encourages as many sailors as possible to attend these events and learn from their predecessors. Twelve sailors attended and spent time visiting with the Nisei veterans.
“This is the best opportunity for us to celebrate our veterans for Veterans Day,” said Delacruz.
Colors were presented by Ventura County color guard. Yeoman 2nd Class Jacqueline Foster, part of the color guard, felt the experience was humbling.
“Times have really changed, and seeing how much pride our older generation has in our country and our military really puts in perspective how much they willingly sacrificed,” said Foster.
After colors were presented by the NOSC Ventura County color guard, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Christi Ward, Navy Reserve Operational Health Support Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif., sang the national anthem. Ward lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif., and drove 170 miles to sing and spend time with the veterans. Ward believes these opportunities are important to show respect and honor to those who served before her.
“When we talk to those who have served in the rmed forces during specific periods, we get the real history, the multidimensional, first-person view,” said Ward. “The man who kept his uniforms, metals, and pictures that he displayed for us, so we were able to touch the history.”
Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who lived in Pacific coastal areas were taken from their homes and interned in one of 10 camps. The government categorized them as “enemy aliens.”
Given 10 days notice, many lost their homes and businesses, their freedom.
“We were married in ’41 and sent to the camps,” said Dorothy Ikkanda, wife of Tom Ikkanda, U.S. Army. They were moved to Manzanar Camp, east of the Sierra Mountains, in the Owens Valley of central eastern California.
At first, most of the military Nisei were kicked out of the service and others were not allowed to join. Draft boards classified Japanese Americans as "4-C: undesirable alien." When volunteers were needed they were "found qualified for service" and either volunteered or were drafted.
Ted Fujimoto, U.S. Army, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, said first he was allowed out of the camps to do farming for a few months. He knew he would be getting drafted, so he took classes at Chicago Tech and got his FCC license in hopes of joining the Signal Corps.
Fujimoto said some of the men resented the treatment they and their families received in the internment camps and were out to prove themselves as patriots. He joined for different reasons.
“I was a teenager; I didn’t have deep thoughts,” he said. Fujimoto explained that he just wanted out of the camps: “I wanted to have fun.”
Builder 1st Class Douglas Hoffman, assigned to NOSC Ventura County, said he felt proud to meet the veterans, and that it gave him a surreal feeling.
“Everyone during WWII sacrificed a lot. Some sacrificed their lives,” Hoffman said. “But these men did so knowing that their country, wrongly as perception often is, viewed them and their families as the enemy.”
Hoffman used his day off work to bring his 8-year-old daughter Savana to the event to teach to her the importance of honoring veterans.
“Some of them most likely joined the fight straight from an internment camp,” Hoffman said. “These men are true Patriots, true Americans.”
The Nisei were assigned primarily to three segregated units - the 442nd RCT, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Military Intelligence Service. They served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. As a part of Merrill’s Marauders, they fought most battles outnumbered and well behind enemy lines. They landed with the Marines on Iwo Jima.
Throughout the Pacific region, the Nisei were a part of the military Intelligence Service. They were interpreters, interrogators, and some were sent behind enemy lines to gather intelligence, even impersonating Japanese officers. Key Japanese documents of strategies and troop and artillery positions were translated by the Nisei, shortening the war and saving lives.
The 442nd RCT, commonly known as "the Purple Heart battalion" had the motto, “Go for Broke.” It summed up their philosophy of giving all they had. In the fall of 1944, the unit suffered more than 800 casualties as it rescued 211 members of a Texas unit pinned down by the Germans in France. The battle is known in military legend as "the rescue of the lost battalion."
The 442nd RCT was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare, receiving a total of 18,143 personal and unit awards.
The 100th saw heavy combat during World War II before and after combining with the 442nd RCT to form a single fighting combat team. The 100th exists today as the only remaining combat arms unit in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“I think it's important to remember all that they really did accomplished; sometimes it's hard to remember because we only see things in movies and books,” said Yeoman 2nd Class Stephan Schreiber, NOSC Ventura County color guard. “But a chance to actually talk to them and hear their stories is eye-opening.”
In the last part of 1943, Japanese-American women were accepted into the Women's Army Corps. More than 300 Nisei women served in the WAC during and after World War II.
“Honor, courage and commitment [the Navy core values]; these courageous men fought to save lives, knowing their lives were in jeopardy; they were committed to the cause " said Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Taylor Perry, assigned to NOSC Ventura County. “I am overjoyed to visit veterans on this extraordinary day. I thank these men for my freedom.”
But the victory overseas did not mean all was well back home. Japanese-American veterans encountered prejudice when they returned. Past awards were reviewed in recent years and found many were denied the higher-level awards they deserved.
Twenty-one Distinguished Service Crosses were proven to warrant the Medal of Honor in 2000.
The Congressional Gold Medal was officially awarded Nov. 2, 2011 to the three segregated Japanese-American Army units in Washington, D.C.
“We have to be grateful for their honor, bravery, and dedication to serve a country that was not affording them or their families the freedoms that many take for granted today,” Nelson said. “Their patriotism in the face of adversity is to be commended and emulated by all.”
VITAS has been organizing many Spirit of ’45 events this year. It commemorates the end of World War II and veterans of that war. They are the nation’s oldest group of veterans, most well into their 80s and older.
“It is my job and privilege to advocate for all our Veterans on hospice service with VITAS,” Lyndsey Hale, the veterans’ community liaison for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care. She said VITAS is committed to honoring those who have served America by attending to their unique needs at the end of life.
Hale, comes from a long line of military heritage. From World War II to the current global war on terrorism, her grandfather, father, uncle and husband served. According to Hale, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 23.6 million veterans are alive today. Veterans make up one-fourth (650,000 per year) of all deaths today —reflecting the aging of the Greatest Generation that served during World War II.
Nikkei Senior Gardens is located in Arleta, a quiet residential community in the San Fernando Valley, assisted living in a retirement community that respects and celebrates Japanese heritage and culture.
For further information for the 442 RCT and other WWII Nisei, visit http://www.the442.org; http://www.goforbroke.org; and http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/apam/patriots.html; Visit www.spiritof45.org for details on the Spirit of '45 movement.