Memorial to Honor Japanese Americans
As a U.S. soldier in World War II, Yuke Iguchi fought more than European fascism: He also battled on behalf of all Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty to the United States.
Now in his twilight years, Iguchi, as well as thousands of other veterans, wants the public to remember the pivotal role he played during the war and at home. At the urging of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, thousands of young Japanese American men jumped at the chance to join the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion.
Nearly all of them volunteered despite the fact that the U.S. government had rounded up nearly 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent and sent them to 10 internment camps in the western United States. Fighting to prove their allegiance to their country, the soldiers made the 100th and 442nd two of the most decorated units in U.S. Army history and transformed themselves into icons among Japanese Americans.
“What we did in World War II was the first time in my life that as a Nisei, or second-generation Japanese American, that I was able to do something to prove to the public that we were loyal,” said Iguchi, who fought with the 442nd in Italy.
Plans are underway to raise $2.5 million to establish an educational program and erect a black granite monument listing the names of more than 15,000 Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. More than 400 supporters of the endeavor, which has faced criticism by some veterans, gathered Sunday at the music-filled Japanese Gardens, where they dined on a lavish lunch catered by Wolfgang Puck and then danced the day away under a massive white party tent.
“These men went to fight for America with uncommon valor when this country questioned their loyalty and incarcerated their families,” said retired Col. Young O. Kim, chairman of the 100th/442nd/MIS WWII Memorial Foundation, which organized Sunday’s event. “They made a difference when it really counted and they deserved to be honored.”
Many younger Japanese Americans credit the sacrifices of these veterans with helping to bring about in 1988 an official U.S. apology for the internment, and restitution payments to camp survivors. The soldiers’ performance also persuaded the U.S. government in the 1950s to allow Japanese immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
The 40-foot-wide, hill-shaped “Go For Broke” monument will commemorate the achievements of the 100th/442nd as well as those of the Japanese American soldiers who served in the Military Intelligence Service. The name “Go For Broke” refers to a movie on the soldiers’ experiences. Construction is expected to begin next spring on the monument, which will be built near Central Avenue on the outskirts of Little Tokyo.
A sour note of the project has been its failure to win the support of all Japanese American veterans, some of whom believe that listing those who survived the war denigrates the sacrifice of those who perished. Opponents have formed their own coalition and have proposed building a memorial listing the estimated 826 Japanese American soldiers who died in World War II, as well as U.S. soldiers of Japanese ancestry who died in several other wars.
Representatives of the coalition said they are seeking approval from officials at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo to add their memorial to the center’s Veterans Memorial Court. The court already contains memorials honoring the Japanese American soldiers slain in the Vietnam and Korean wars.
“Working as a medic during World War II, I watched some of these men die painful deaths,” said Dr. Harold Harada, a member of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry War Memorial Coalition. “They made the supreme sacrifice and the thought of having my name put next to theirs is enough to make me want to wake up in the middle of the night and get a hammer and chisel my name off.”
The debate over how the veterans should be remembered has raged for nearly a decade in the pages of the community newspapers and in veterans meetings, triggering lawsuits, splitting the ranks of men who once fought side by side and, some say, delaying the building of the “Go For Broke” monument.
“Opponents of the monument like to use the Japanese word ‘haiji’ to describe it, implying that the monument is shameful because it’s self-aggrandizing,” said Mits Usui, a World War II veteran and member of the San Fernando Valley Nisei Memorial VFW Post 4140. “But I think it would be a greater shame now for the Japanese American community and the people of Los Angeles for there not to be a memorial at all.”
Supporters of the monument contend listing all 15,000 names would attract extra attention, and thus get more people to stop and learn the story of the Japanese Americans who fought during World War II. A star would be placed next to the names of those who died.
Some of the surviving veterans said having their names listed on the monument would also leave a lasting legacy for their families.
“In the future, the monument will always be there for my grandkids and their grandkids as a reminder of what we accomplished for them,” Iguchi said.