Wednesday, March 31, 2004

An inspiration for a generation

At the dedication of an exhibit
on his Army days, Shinseki credits
those who helped along the way

Shinseki's West Point cadet uniform is in the exhibit.

Kauai-born Gen. Eric "Ric" Shinseki first went into combat in Vietnam as a member of Hawaii's 25th Infantry Division and rose to the top post in the Army.

His leadership is "an inspiration for a whole generation of leaders in the Army," said the division's current commander, Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, at dedication ceremonies yesterday for the Shinseki Gallery at the U.S. Army Museum in Hawaii.

As Olson prepared to leave today to head a 13,000-member multinational coalition force in Afghanistan, including 5,000 troops from Schofield Barracks, he noted: "I can't help but think this is a great way to go off to Afghanistan, with this kind of inspiration in my mind. It puts us in the right mind frame."

Shinseki, twice wounded in the Vietnam War and the first Japanese American to become a four-star general and serve as chief of a military service, retired last summer after 38 years of service.

Yesterday, friends, like Olson, were at the museum in Waikiki to witness the opening of the gallery. The gallery includes personal items like Shinseki's West Point tunic, a Father's Day Vietnam "combat postcard" made from a C-ration box to his father, Tamotsu Shinseki, and his black beret with four stars.

Olson was among the many colleagues Shinseki, 61, singled out as those who have provided key links in his career. Shinseki said the Tropic Lightning Division -- the unit that he first went into combat with as a lieutenant in Vietnam -- holds "a soft spot" in his heart.

Shinseki, during his brief 10-minute speech and again during a chat with reporters, said many of his achievements were due of the efforts of many other soldiers before him.

As he has in the past, Shinseki paid tribute to the nisei World War II veterans of the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 1399th Combat Engineers and the Military Intelligence Service.

"These wonderful men of average stature -- quiet and unassuming -- who never said much about themselves," he said. "But if you are a student of history and you read what they did for all of us, it is an astounding story of valor and sacrifice in the wonderful history of this country."

Whitey Yamamoto, a member of the 442nd, said he was gratified by Shinseki's tribute to the nisei veterans.

"He's a very modest person, but he never forgot the veterans who went through so much hardships ... It's gratifying that he remembers what is important to our Japanese culture that you never forget what other people taught you," Yamamoto said.

Shinseki also paid tribute to retired Lt. Gen. Allen Ono, who was the highest-ranking Japanese American until Shinseki's promotion to a four-star general. Shinseki said he still recalls the phone call with advice from Ono when he was selected to get his first star. Ono urged him to "talk about Asian contributions to America" and "to bring honor to Hawaii."

Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki toured the Hawaii Army Museum's Shinseki Gallery during yesterday's opening with museum director John McLaughlin.

Shinseki's achievements are just "a validation that America no longer considers that being an Asian is a handicap," Ono later told the Star-Bulletin.

"For him to reach the highest job in the U.S. Army is phenomenal," added Ono, who as a three-star general was the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

Shinseki told reporters: "After spending a lifetime in a profession you chose and loved, I'm very lucky to come back and have this kind of recognition. It's humbling and unusual, but you didn't get here on your own."

He said in a speech, "The exhibit with the name of Shinseki on it ... it is really a story -- an American story about opportunity."

Shinseki told reporters that he still hasn't decided on what he plans to do and has all but ruled out seeking elected political office. He hopes to eventually return to Kauai.

In the end, Shinseki said the two most important things he did were 38 years ago: He choose a profession that he has never regretted and married his high school sweetheart from Waimea High School, Patricia Yoshinobu.

Shinseki said he still sees himself "just as an average kid from Kauai" whose parents drilled into him the importance of education.

"Their values and their ethics about respect for others and never being afraid of hard work -- that was a great foundation for someone in my shoes," he said.


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