Sunday, November 06, 2011

Heroes All

SSgt Frank Fujita
POW of Japan
On November 2, Japanese-American war veterans received one of the highest U.S. awards. These veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as well as the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. It will be stored at the Smithsonian. Veterans can buy a bronze replica if they want.

The awards ceremony was held in the great hall of the Capitol Visitor's Center and hosted by the House and Senate leadership. A full military color guard participated.

Later that week on November 4th many of these veterans met for the first time with Navajo and African-American recipients of the same honor for a celebratory dinner in Beverly Hills, California involving the three historically segregated military units.

 The other groups received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000 and 2006, respectively. The dinner was organized by the Go For Broke National Education Center, a group working to preserve the history of the ''Nikkei'' World War II veterans.

Meeting men from the other segregated units had a deep emotional impact, a Japanese-American veteran said. ''I just hope the world will be a safer place to live now, for all of us,'' he said.

Interestingly, at least five Japanese-American WWII veterans did not serve in these units. They are believed to have been in the Army Air Corps like Ben Kuroki, who flew 28 missions over Japan. Cmdr Douglas Wada was the only one in the Navy. One, however, was from the Texas National Guard and became a POW of Japan. He did not receive an honor on November 2nd.

Staff Sergeant Frank Fujita was a member of the 2D Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, Texas National Guard during World War II. Known as the Lost Battalion, they were captured in March 1942 on Java. Its members were sent to build the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railway. SSgt Fujita was then sent to be a slave laborer for Kawanami Shipyards at Fukuoka #2B near Nagasaki. He was also sent for interrogation to the infamous Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center and then forced to be used for radio propaganda at Omori where he was liberated.

During his three-and-a-half year incarceration, Fujita kept a diary, from which he wrote his autobiography: Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun : The Secret Prison Diary of Frank 'Foo' Fujita. He endured years of beatings and disgrace. Yet, his loyalty to the U.S. and his unit never wavered, even when the Japanese offered him a commission, money, and women. He turned it all down, accepting unending abuse and refused to assist in Japan's propaganda effort. His strength of character was an inspiration to his comrades.

SSgt Fujita became an Air Force illustrator after the war and died in 1996 in Abilene, Texas.

Segarent Richard Sakakida was also a POW of the Japanese. He was a member of MIS, which was included in the collective Congressional Gold Medal. Sakakida was captured on Corregidor and endured months of torture by the Kempeitai at several POWs camps in the Philippines. See, A Spy in Their Midst: The World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero, Richard Sakakida, as told to Wayne S. Kiyosaki. Madison Books, 1995. Lt. Col. Sakakida died in 1996.

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