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Japanese-Americans honored for WWII service

May 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Just ahead of Memorial Day, when we commemorate U.S. men and women who have died in military service, is the Armed Forces Celebration Day Celebration and Parade in Torrance. The event starts Friday and marks its 50th anniversary, the longest running military event of its kind in the country. They joined in battle some 65 years ago. Their motto: "Go for broke." Japanese-American soldiers say they had to.

"Americanism, that's the thing," said Don Seki, 442nd Regimental Combat Unit.

"We had something more to fight for, especially to prove our loyalty," said Sam Fujikawa, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. "That is the hard part."

The hard part? The Japanese attack that cast them into suspicion. Senator Daniel Inouye was among the scores of loyal Japanese-Americans branded as enemy aliens, shipped to internment camps.

Sam Fujikawa was 16.

"Just because we were of Japanese ancestry," said Fujikawa. "Even if you were just 10 percent, you would still be hauled in."

Then, to their shock, they were drafted.

"In Japanese we have a phrase: 'For the children's sake,'" said Fujikawa.

Racial discrimination had limited their jobs to gardeners and grocers. Laying down their lives was a bid for a better life for their children.

The war took them to Europe, to the German front and costly engagements. The most famous of all: the rescue of the Lost Battalion. A Texas regiment was surrounded. Weary and with no backup, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-Americans did what no one expected.

"Got those Texans out, but boy, that took a hell of a beating," said Seki.

German troops surrendered to them on the border of the motherland. But the 442nd had lost hundreds of men. Don Seki came home without his arm.

The stories live on through the Go For Broke Education Center in Torrance. There is but one of many stories honored at Torrance's Armed Forces Celebration. It comes as a measure is halfway through Congress to award the Japanese-American vets its highest honor, the Gold Medal.

"We are Americans," said Seki. "No doubt there is no better country than America. That is what I want the students and children to know."

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