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Barbara Watanabe

Speech by General David A. Bramlett
Go For Broke Monument
Fifth Anniversary Tribute
June 5, 2004

Aloha. I am deeply honored to be present, and to be a part of today’s tribute. In 1952, as a 10-year-old in Pensacola, Florida, I sat mesmerized at the movies, watching Van Johnson in “Go For Broke.” I was already determined to be a soldier, so I watched with great intensity. I have never forgotten that experience…I left thinking, “Who are these guys?” Discovering the answer has enriched me as a soldier and a human being. Thus, I offer a soldier’s perspective on our gathering this morning.

And, as a soldier, I am honored and humbled to be in the midst of so many of you we honor, such as Colonel Young Oak Kim; George Sakato, who holds the Medal of Honor; Harry Akune of the MIS; and so many others whose names are inscribed on this imposing Monument, whose deeds are revered in history, and whose legacy provides a moral compass for both the citizen and the state.

We are reminded that this Monument is a tribute to the 16,126 Nisei veterans who risked and sacrificed their lives during World War II … and it is also a reminder of civil rights, so that no group of citizens ever again be denied their rights of citizenship because of race, ethnicity, ancestry, or for any reason. Thankfully, more of our citizenry are learning more about these remarkable men, more about the agonizing circumstances that confronted them and their families, and more about their response and its impact on our nation’s conscience and consciousness.

Certainly, the Go For Broke Educational Foundation is a vital part of this teaching and learning process, and I join in the special salute to City Councilwoman Jan Perry for her support.

And, I must also acknowledge those present whose sacrifices and battlefields took a very different form, whose lives were shattered by dislocation, deprivation, and suffering…in your own country, our country. Your ordeal in Manzanar, Rohwer, Poston, Amache, Heart Mountain, and the rest haunts our nation’s conscience, as it should. We must not forget.

The Beginning
In 1943, a young private wrote from Camp Shelby, Mississippi to his niece and included a short poem without a title but with these thoughts:

Soft green leaves
The May breeze gently stirs
As soft green soldiers

Soft green leaves
Before the autumn breeze to thee
A lovely hue bestows,
And to peaceful slumber slowly sends

Let not thee
The summer storms,
The autumn gales
To tattered shambles
Rend and crush

Soft green soldiers
As the May breeze blows
Soft green leaves

The author is but one of the 16,126 names inscribed on the Monument before us. You will find him on Panel 3A, Row 94. He and his buddies of the 442nd training at Shelby indeed feared “the summer storms, the autumn gales” that lie ahead, but none could have foreseen Hill 140, the Arno River, Bruyeres, Biffontaine, Mt. Belvedere…no more than the original 100th Battalion before them could have anticipated the Volturno, Monte Cassino, Anzio, and beyond. In fact, the poem’s author would be pulled from the 442nd and would find himself training to join the MIS (the Military Intelligence Service), and the autumn gales before him were to be Saipan and
Iwo Jima.

Indeed, none could have anticipated that their achievements would not only earn an honored place in our history but also provide a legacy for our future.

D-Day, and June 5, 1944
Many of these names and places have been on our mind over the last few days, as the nation gathered to dedicate the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., over the Memorial Day weekend. And, tomorrow there will be essentially an international commemoration, a remembrance of the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. It is simply not sufficient to say that those we honor here today were a part of the whole or valued members of a mighty coalition. Rather, we should pause and remember that the Nisei veterans occupy a revered place in the achievements of World War II. Their deeds have become legendary as they have become more widely known, though initially their singular achievements were often subsumed in the larger summaries of events, or sadly, simply under reported, marginalized, or neglected.

On this date, June 5, some 60 years ago in 1944, the Allies marched into Rome, the Eternal City, on schedule – the day preceding the Normandy invasion – perhaps a schedule designed to deal the Nazi regime a quick succession of shocks, one in the Italian campaign and the other by invading occupied France.

However, the attack toward Rome was stopped by a determined German roadblock. Two U.S. battalions had failed to dislodge the enemy. The 100th Battalion, the Purple Heart Battalion, came forward and destroyed the position, allowing the advance to complete the last 12 miles to Rome. But, inexplicably, the 100th was pulled from the line of march to allow other units to pass and be among the first to enter Rome.

This event may be all too illustrative. Tough mission, others fall short, Nisei called forward…mission accomplished, inadequate recognition…standby for the next difficult mission – far too many examples – fighting in the Vosges to save the Lost Battalion and beaching the Gothic Line in Italy are two of the now renowned displays of extraordinary heroism, unflinching dedication to duty, and agonizing sacrifice characteristic of the 100th/442nd in particular, and the Nisei units in general.

There are others, and we in uniform study these feats to try to understand better the importance of the human dimension of battle. The Nisei units simply would not fail. The feats of the Nisei veterans we honor today have grown in stature over the decades since World War II, as the nation has recorded and documented the achievements of the Greatest Generation. And, we have consistently looked back for inspiration for the present and guidance for the future. And, in that process of veneration, we have been seeing the past with a clarity and awareness born of experience and conscience. Recognition, proper recognition, has been an ongoing process. It has taken many forms…all of them well-earned, but most far too slow in coming.

Medals of Honor
The theme for this 5th Anniversary is “Honoring Our Heroes,” highlighting the Nisei soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, an award given for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity…an award that distinguishes the recipient from all others. We find among the ranks of the Nisei veterans some 21 soldiers so honored:

ll three earned the MOH on the same day in the same battle in the same battalion. Pvt Hasemoto and Sergeant Ohata fought side-by-side. One can only imagine the heroism that must have been everywhere on the battlefield.

Both men from the same rural area of Oahu on the Leeward coast…same company on the same day.

These men entered the Army from behind barbed wire under guard to earn their nation’s highest award for heroism, with four of them losing their lives in the battle.

Along with Technician 5th Grade Okubo mentioned earlier, these four distinguished themselves, again where courage and sacrifice were commonplace, in the harrowing and horrific fighting to save the Lost Battalion. We are honored by the presence of George Sakato, whose citation of conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity includes such lines as:

“Disregarding this fire, Private Sakato made a one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy strongpoint. He proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counter-attack…used an enemy rifle and a P38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack…continuously ignoring the enemy fire and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit, he turned impending defeat into victory…”

The war in Italy ended on May 2nd, though these three men, to include PFC Munemori mentioned earlier, and fought and earned the MOH during the last month of the war. There was no respite or relief from the demands of Duty, heroism, and sacrifice.

All 21 citations are filled with accounts of heroism and gallantry under the most harrowing of conditions in which these men disregarded any semblance of personal safety and acted to help their buddies and to accomplish the mission.

MOH, Context, 55 Years
Now, a little more context. The 16,126 Nisei soldiers listed on the Monument are but a fraction of the 16,353,659 men and women who served in World War II. The Nisei constituted only .10% (1/10 of 1%) of the total who served, but earned almost 5% (4.9%) of all MOHs awarded in WWII and over 7% (7.1%) of the total awarded to those in the Army.

I am not suggesting there is a fair share of anything in war; nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes numbers help to understand relative magnitude…in this case to understand better the reverence with which the nation – particularly those of us who have served in the military – the reverence we hold for Nisei veterans and their units.

The 21 Medals of Honor are figuratively and literally the tip of the iceberg. When you hear the 100th/442nd RCT is the most decorated unit for its size and service in the nation’s history, know that it’s true.

But these earned and deserved recognitions, with the Medals of Honor and all that they represent, were late by 55 years. There are many explanations, all of which are at best, an embarrassment; and at worst, attitudes and behaviors unworthy of our nation and what it represents. Whether this terrible injustice was the result of indifference, inefficiency, jealousy, bigotry, or racism, or some combination, the result is a blight on our national character. When the President of the United States presented these Medals on June 21, 2000, the nation was at once immensely proud of those present as well as proud of the memories of those no longer present, but it was also a time for the nation to ask why and how it could happen. We do well to remember.

Military Intelligence Service
Belated recognition is nothing new for these veterans. The Military Intelligence Service (the MIS) continues to grow in stature and respect as more becomes widely known about the secret operations involving Japanese speakers, principally Nisei, who served throughout the Pacific theater as translators, interpreters, often guides, and occasionally infantryman. Credited with the shortening the war in the Pacific at least two years, the MIS achievements at the tactical, operational, and strategic level may be without equal for any comparable unit, but still few know:

There are literally thousands of these stories – some known and recorded, some known and not recorded, others known but to God. Such is it with these intrepid men who were parceled throught the Pacific from the Aleutians to Japan and all the islands in between, with the Army, Marines, the British, Chinese, Australians, and New Zealanders. Finally, in 2000 the MIS received only a small part of its true recognition with the award of the Presidential Unit Citation, some 50 years late.

1399th Engineer Battalion
Among the names we honor are those of the 1399th Engineer Battalion. Formed in Hawaii in April 1944, they worked tirelessly to bolster the defenses and enhance the capabilities of Oahu to support the major forces preparing for the struggle in the Pacific Theater. General MacArthur twice asked for the 1399th by name because of their reputation for tireless effort and unmatched results. Both times the Battalion was held on Oahu because of the higher priority. Disappointed but not disheartened, the 1399th continued to demonstrate the devotion to duty and commitment to the task at hand. Today, on Oahu, their work is still evident and functioning, a testimony to these remarkable tradition of the Nisei soldier to accomplish any task given.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion with its automatic artillery, but yet among the first to liberate the camps of Dachau; they brought compassion and comfort to scenes of unimaginable inhumanity.

The 232nd Combat Engineer Battalion earning a Presidential Unit Citation for its incredible feats of combat engineering in the most horrific of situations.

There is not enough time…

But the legacy remains, for both the soldier and the citizen.

By their actions, the Nisei soldiers and their units have left a legacy that defines the values of the profession of arms.

The Army as an institution has adopted seven values as the bedrock, the non-negotiables, of the American Soldier. These values were carefully selected and are those which have defined the essence of the Army in its past and provide the moral azimuth for its future. These Values are: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Courage. What units, what individuals better exemplify these virtues than those we commemorate today?

Today, we are again a nation at war. We pray for the safety and success of those who now wear the uniform and follow in the tradition preserved and passed to them by their predecessors. Though the weapons and equipment, and in many cases the tactics, have changed, the values which they carry have not. They are your values, the values demonstrated so dramatically by the Nisei soldier regardless of mission.

For our nation at large, the legacy is one of fortitude and forgiveness – the fortitude to persevere in the most dire of circumstances. Anzio, Amache, Hill 140, Heart Mountain, Monte Cassino, Manzanar, Mount Belvedere, Minidoka… Guadalcanal, Kiska, Saipan, Okinawa, Bruyeres…and Tule Lake, Poston, Topaz, Rohwer, Jerome…names that invoke memories of sacrifice, courage in all its forms, and the strength of a shared commitment through it all to make the country better than it might have been and perhaps even better than it thought it could be.

And, also forgiveness – the forgiveness displayed by the willingness to set aside bitterness and anger toward a nation who doubted their loyalty, and upon return from the battlefields, to help elevate the nation to an even higher plane.

Last Monday, like many of you, I attended Memorial Day services. For me, it was at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the Punchbowl. Knowing I would be here later in the week, I went again to the section where so many of your buddies are at rest. The “summer storms and autumn gales” extracted a terrible price. Mikio Hasemoto, Robert Kuroda, Shinyei Nakamine with their MOH flags above their gravesite…about them much is known and written. Nearby, there are PFCs Nishimura, Kubokawa, Takubo, Tomikawa, and so many others whose deeds are lesser known but no less valued. At one corner of the Section, near to the ground, is a plaque that reads:

In October 1944
The 442nd wrote the word
With their blood
Biffontaine Remembers
March 24-28, 1993

And so does this nation. This Monument reminds us and those who will follow us to recall again just how much those we honor here gave to the nation, not only to preserve liberty but to insure that the blessings of liberty are equally shared by all citizens.

This nation is one of many blessings. Those we honor today, the Nisei Veterans, and by poignant extension, their families, have blessed the nation and its successive generations with both service and example. They, you are at once reminders of our darker nature and of our nobler selves. Great nations, this great nation, must always guard against the former and seek the latter.

We owe them, and you present, a debt that only grows in interest and that can never be repaid. However, we can honor their, your legacy by never failing to show our gratitude when possible, and to follow your example…always.

In that spirit, to all those present who represent all whose names are inscribed there upon,
thank you…for who you are, for what you have done, and for what you have imparted to our nation. We must always do our best to live up to what you expect us to be.

May God bless you and your service, and God bless America.