Iraq-Bound Soldiers Honor Japanese-American WWII Veterans

Author: Marc Ramirez, Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Times, 4/11/2009
Puka Puka Parades, May 2009, 4/2009

Partial news article from Seattle Times about the 34th paying tribute to 442nd Veterans (complete article at the Seattle Times website).

In the offices of Seattle’s Nisei Veterans Committee, members of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th “Red Bull” Division paid tribute to aging Japanese-American veterans of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The division, with about 1,000 Minnesota-based soldiers, just finished two months of training at Fort Lewis before deploying to Iraq, starting next week.

“It’s a real honor,” said Tosh Okamoto, 83. “Even after 60 years, they still recognize the association between our two units.”

“We just felt we had to be here for these guys,” said commanding officer Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, among the brass attending the ceremony.

After the war, many Nisei found they were unwelcome in veterans groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Undaunted, they helped form the Nisei Veterans Committee, which made Friday’s lunchtime brotherhood all the more special.

The meeting had come about by chance: Vietnam veteran Ted Yorita, a former Marine, had been at Fort Lewis for a gathering of color guards when he took a break at the local burger joint. A few tables away, something familiar caught his eye. It was a patch he knew well, on the shoulders of several lunching 34th Division soldiers. Yorita, a member of the Nisei Veterans Committee, had to ask: Had they heard of the 442nd? Which, it turned out, was like asking if these guys had heard of their own uncles.

One phone call led to another, and on Friday, the Iraq-bound soldiers honored men such as Kim Muromoto, who was there in April 1945 when the 442nd helped break the Germans’ impenetrable “Gothic Line” high in the Italian mountains. “The Allies couldn’t penetrate the line,” Muromoto said. The breakthrough marked the end of the war in Europe.

The unattached 442nd, which incorporated the famed but depleted 100th “Nisei” Battalion, had bounced around without a home for a bit before bonding with the 34th Division for good amid the final push of the war. “We all had admiration for the 34th’s bravery and courage,” said Frank Nishimura, 85. “We had to live up to that standard.”

For the older veterans, it was a chance to say thanks and to recall the bonds they still share with the 34th. “It feels good that I can actually thank them myself,” Nishimura said. “It’s a different generation. But I’m confident they can live up to their predecessors.”