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Thursday, June 22, 2000

Associated Press
President Bill Clinton presents the Congressional
Medal of Honor to Shizuya Hayashi of Pearl City
during yesterday's White House ceremony.

‘America owes
an unrepayable debt
to you,’ Clinton says

Twenty-two Asian Pacific
Americans finally receive
their Medals of Honor

Heroes honored at Pentagon, Senate

By Gregg K. Kakesako


WASHINGTON -- It was the largest and maybe the last such affair -- the awarding of the nation's highest tribute to valor, the Medal of Honor, to 22 Asian Pacific Americans who finally received recognition more than a half-century late.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera told reporters, "It was time to correct the record and render proper recognition."

Before awarding the medal yesterday, President Clinton recalled that 55 summers ago in almost the exact same spot on the White House South Lawn, President Truman welcomed the return of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from the battlefields of Europe: "You fought not only the enemy; you fought prejudice and you have won."

In his address, Clinton said Japanese Americans, many of whom had been forced out of their homes to relocation camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, "didn't give up on their country, when too many of their countrymen gave up on them."

Associated Press
President Clinton bows his head with World War II
veterans before presenting them with the Medal of
Honor at the White House yesterday. From right,
the veterans are Rudolph Davila; and from Hawaii,
Barney Hajiro, Shizuya Hayashi and U.S.
Sen. Daniel Inouye.

He repeated a story about Sen. Daniel Inouye returning home after the war with his right sleeve bare and his chest full of medals, but running into a barber who told the Hawaii nisei warrior, "We don't cut Jap hair."

Inouye later said "he was tempted to break up the place," Clinton said, "but he had done all the fighting he needed to do."

To applause, Clinton told Inouye: "You wrote that your father told you as you left at age 18 to join the Army and fight a war, that the Inouyes owe an unrepayable debt ... I may say so, sir, more than a half-century later, America owes an unrepayable debt to you."

"Rarely," said the president, "has a nation been so well-served by a people who it ill-treated."

The president noted that as Japanese-American sons set off for war, they were told by their mothers and fathers: "Live if you can. Die if you must. But fight always for honor and never ever bring shame on your family or your country."

Clinton also recognized to a standing ovation Kauai's Eric "Ric" Shinseki -- the nation's highest-ranking Asian American general with four stars on his shoulders as chief of staff and head of the nation's Army.

"He stands on the shoulders of these we honor today and all those who have worked for 50 years to set the record straight," Clinton said.

More than 400 people -- Asian Americans and friends and family members -- weathered the muggy heat of a Washington summer to bear witness to this tribute to heroes of a generation past.

Politicians, including up to now Congress' only Medal of Honor recipient -- Sen. Bob Kerry of Nebraska -- crowded under a tent.

Of the 22 new Medal of Honor recipients, only seven are alive today. Five of those are from Hawaii and stood before Clinton yesterday as he draped the awards around their necks. Inouye, Yukio Okutsu, Yeiki Kobashigawa, Barney Hajiro and Shizuya Hayashi solemnly faced the president as each citation was read aloud.

Other Hawaii recipients such as Kaoru Moto, Robert Kuroda, Francis Brown, Masato Nakae, Shinyei Nakamine, Allan Ohata and Mikio Hasemoto had a relative receive the medal mounted in a special encased frame.

Until yesterday, Hawaii had no World War II Medal of Honor recipients. Now there are 12.

Caldera said wartime conditions and the fact that America was at war with Japan and that the 100th/442nd had been sent to Europe instead of the Pacific theater "may have lead to that underawarding."

In undertaking the review of the records of Asian Americans as required under a law drafted by Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, Caldera said "we didn't go out to say whether there was racism or prejudice. We went out to say, 'Are their actions deserving of the Medal of Honor?' "

Following the ceremony, Akaka, who began the drive to recognize the accomplishments of the 100/442nd four years ago, said: "I am so elated. I am overjoyed that it has come to this point where we finally recognize these veterans and give them the proper recognition.

"That's all I hoped for."

Okutsu, a Big Island anthurium farmer, had a hard time expressing his feelings. "I guess I can now go and tell my old man -- my father -- what happened," said Okutsu referring in reverence to his father who is buried at a Koloa graveyard on Kauai.

Anita Korenaga, sister of Shinyei Nakamine, who was killed in 1944 as a member of Company B, 100th Battalion, had a hard time keeping back tears as she talked about the award.

"We went to my mother and father's gravesite in Waianae after we found out," Korenaga said. "It was such a happy feeling."

Pearl City resident Hayashi said he was grateful for all the recognition.

"All I know is that everything has come out all right."

Gen. Shinseki still
shows aloha spirit

FORT MEYER, Va. -- Sometimes missing the bus does pay off.

At least that's what the family of Medal of Honor recipient Shizuya Hayashi found out this week.

Along with many of the families of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Hayashi's family had attended a special retreat ceremony Tuesday night.

But when they were preparing to leave, all the Army buses were full.

As they waited, the Army's Chief of Staff, four-star Gen. Eric Shinseki, saw Hayashi and the family of Shinyei Nakamine waiting. Like the island boy he is, the general invited the two families to his three-story quarters.

"I thought they (the Shinsekis) were most gracious," said Karen Kanimoto, Hayashi's daughter.

"They were so cordial. They haven't lost the Hawaiian spirit. I was impressed by their sincerity. They showed us every part of their home."

Kanimoto said their visit lasted for at least an hour until their bus finally came to take them back to their Washington, D.C., hotel.

 | | |

Medal winners honored
at the Pentagon and on
floor of the U.S. Senate

By Gregg K. Kakesako


WASHINGTON -- Still basking in the glow of yesterday's White House ceremony, the newest living recipients of the Medal of Honor were recognized at the Pentagon and by Congress today.

The seven men today saw their portraits and award citations hung in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

"This week has been a humbling experience for this soldier. It (the Medal of Honor) is not something one seeks. There is no way to train for it," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric "Ric" Shinseki said at this morning's Pentagon Hall of Heroes induction ceremony. It is "humbling and gratifying to have these men as role models" for a new generation of soldiers.

Echoing that theme in his speech, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said, "The stories of these heroes are an inspiration to those Americans yet to come."

In paying tribute to the country's newest heroes on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka said that 55 years ago "our country refused to appropriately recognize that these men distinguished themselves by gallantry and audacious courage, risking their lives in service above and beyond the call of duty."

The Hawaii Democrat was the architect of the 1996 law that forced the Army to review combat records of Japanese and Pacific Island American soldiers. "It may have taken half a century, but the passage of time has not diminished the magnificence of their courage," he said.

Akaka also paid a special tribute to his colleague, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who yesterday was among the 22 Asian Americans awarded the Medal of Honor. Inouye was originally considered for the Medal of Honor after killing 25 Germans while wiping out two machine gun nests in Italy in 1945. But the Army downgraded it to the Distinguished Service Cross.

For more than 60 years, Akaka said, Inouye "has returned to America the goodness and service to honor his father's admonition" to repay a debt to this country.

Twenty of the 22 new Medal of Honor recipients were members of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team _ a segregated Japanese-American unit that emerged from the battlefields of France and Italy as one of most decorated in Army history.

Only seven survived to receive the Medal personally from Clinton yesterday. Out of the 22 men honored, ten were killed in battle. Twelve of the 22, five of whom are still living, are from Hawaii.

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