CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
World War II 100th Battalion veteran Kazuto Shimizu presented a handmade ilima lei yesterday to Sgt. Guang Lin, who was deployed with the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, to the current war in Iraq. The presentation was part of the 2006 Lei Tribute for Companies D and HHC of the 100th/442nd, in which 82 soldiers who were sent to Iraq received leis from the WWII veterans. Also coming down the middle of the aisle was Pfc. Stanley Akita.
War vets with leis honor 100th Battalion
The ceremony brings together World War II and Iraqi combat vets
"Thank you for your selfless service,'' the tags on 85 leis presented to Iraqi veterans read. "You no make shame -- you make us proud. Welcome home."
Each lei was presented to the new veterans of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, yesterday during a touching ceremony at the Ala Wai clubhouse.
And those who passed them out were 100th Battalion veterans from World War II.
Barney Hajiro, who earned a Medal of Honor in 1945, was first in line as members of his generation handed the leis to the returning soldiers.
The lei tribute was a re-enactment from one that took place more than 60 years ago, when 100th Battalion members received imitation ilima leis made from crepe paper with a tag that said, "From the people of the territory to the volunteers of the combat unit of the U.S. Army."
Bert Kuioka, whose father had served in the 100th Battalion during World War II, said the first generation of combat veterans "wanted to welcome home the veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
Lt. Col. Colbert Low, who commanded the 100th Battalion in Iraq from February 2005 to January, told the audience that "without the legendary accomplishments and grit shown by the 100th Battalion, our unit would not be here today."
The imitation ilima leis made from yellow-gold yarn woven around straws were given to soldiers of Delta and Headquarters and Headquarters companies that fought in Iraq last year.
Supporters said the "no make shame" reference was one of the messages given to the soldiers when they left last year as part of the 29th Brigade Combat Team. It was part of the legacy the latest generation of 100th Battalion soldiers were asked to honor.
Barbara Nishioka, whose husband, Tommy, was a member of the 100th Battalion's Alpha Company, was one of 600 volunteers who sewed the gold ilima leis. "It was very easy," she said, "and fun."
Among the newest Iraqi combat veterans at yesterday's ceremony was Spc. Len Tanaka, a 21-year-old Honolulu Community College student whose grandfather Asao Tanaka served with the 100th Battalion in World War II.
The younger Tanaka enlisted in the Army Reserve because he was influenced by the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001.
His year in Iraq, he said, was "a good experience, and as far as I am concerned, I have no regrets."
More than 300 soldiers of the 100th Battalion were killed in World War II. Their names are inscribed on a memorial wall at the Ala Wai Clubhouse.
A single ilima yarn lei and a lighted candle now pay tribute to the four latest combat casualties in Iraq: Staff Sgt. Frank Tiai, Sgt. Evan Parker, Staff Sgt. Ugene Leito and Sgt. Derrance Jack.