|Kennedy greets Gino J. Merli|
In President Kennedy's address to those 240 recipients at the White House, he spoke of pride, pride in the men who have fought so bravely for their country. He went on to speak of the rarity of the honor:
"Not many Medals of Honor have been won, if any, in this country in this century. There are thousands of Americans who lie buried all around the globe who have been fighting for the independence of other countries and, in a larger sense, for the independence of their own [..] In honoring you, we honor all those who bear arms in the service of their country."As Kennedy historians marked the fiftieth anniversary of that Medal of Honor ceremony, it would be remiss of me to not mention those who were missing from that distinguished group. Missing that day in the White House Rose Garden were members of the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion or 442nd Regimental Combat Team who had acted in heroic ways during World War II, but had not been recognized for their service, patriotism and heroism.
|Kennedy congratulates Private Wilburn K. Ross|
It would take thirty-seven years from when President Kennedy convened 240 Medal of Honor recipients that day in the Rose Garden in 1963 to when President Clinton would finally bestow the Medal of Honor on twenty-one members of the 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Prior to the ceremony at the Clinton White House in 2000, only Sgt. Jose Calugas, of the Philippine Scouts, and Pfc. Sadao Munemori of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded the Medal of Honor. It was a glaring oversight, driven by unfortunate institutional racism that had persisted since the order was signed by President Roosevelt to intern Americans of Japanese ancestry, and one that should not have taken fifty-five years since the end of World War II to reverse.
President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto, Pvt. Joe Hayashi, Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi, Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda, Pfc. Kaoru Moto, Pfc. Kiyoshi K. Muranaga, Pvt. Masato Nakae, Pvt. Shinyei Nakamine, Pfc. William K. Nakamura, Pfc. Joe M. Nishimoto, Staff Sgt. Allan M. Ohata, Pfc. Frank H. Ono, Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani, Tech. Sgt. Ted T. Tanouye, and Capt. Francis B. Wai. Additionally, during Clinton's ceremony, he had the privilege of presenting the award in person to Rudolph B. Davila, Barney F. Hajiro, Shizuya Hayashi, Yeiki Kobashigawa, Yukio Okutsu, George T. Sakato and U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.
|Kennedy meets Daniel Inouye in 1962|
"Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army."This man was serving in the United States Senate, the very Senate where Kennedy once served, as a ceremony was taking place at the White House to honor men of Inouye's caliber. Here was a man who enlisted in the 442nd as soon as the military lifted its ban on Japanese-American servicemen, lost his arm while in combat and never once directed anger or cynicism toward his county, but instead devoted his life to public service. This man embodied what the Medal of Honor represents. This man was as deserving of that award as any to which it had been presented. And yet he had to wait.
|Obama and members of the 442nd in 2010|
The finality of bestowing proper recognition on the Japanese-Americans who fought for this country during World War II was all the more important because of the time in which we live. Americans will witness, as we have twice already, the awarding of the Medal of Honor to soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. And those soldiers will not receive awards based on anything but their service and devotion to their country. Hopefully no generation, no regiment, no demographic will ever again be denied proper recognition like those brave men who fought with the 100th Infantry Battalion or the 442nd Infantry Regiment.