Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Japanese Americans enlisted to help with the war effort, a topic highlighted Wednesday during the annual Veterans Day celebration at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
One of those men who enlisted was Don Seki, who was living in Hawaii when the attack happened on Dec. 7. He subsequently signed up and joined a celebrated regiment comprised mostly of second-generation, Japanese American soldiers.
Not leaving the United States with his parents who asked him to come with them to Japan just prior to the attack “was the best decision of my life” because it allowed him to serve his country, Seki said during the event, which was attended by hundreds of students.
Seki and fellow members of the 442nd Infantry Regiment became known for breaking through German troops in October 1944 and rescuing 211 men who had long been trapped by enemy forces.
“We had to get them out,” Seki said. While marching to recover the isolated battalion, Seki was struck by fire from a 3-foot machine gun. He ended up losing his arm.
This year’s program was a nod to the school’s Japanese dual-language students, according to Sue Jekarl, a board member of the Glendale Parks & Open Space Foundation.
The program “was pretty touching,” sixth-grader Nanar Tutunjian said. “Whoever signs up for war, they’re really brave and are giving up everything for it.”
“There’s a lack of knowledge of what happened, even modern history,” among students, said Peter Regli, a teacher at Wilson and producer of the assembly.
The goal of the program, which was launched after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, is to fill in those comprehension gaps, he said.
Honored alongside Seki and other veterans was Wilson’s own librarian, Anita McCarthy, who served for eight years in the U.S. Air Force, primarily shooting film and video used for congressional briefings and war games.
“I think everyone should join. It’s a very good cultural experience,” said McCarthy, who added that she was able to travel all over the world, including Peru, Argentina, Japan, Panama and the White House as part of her service that stretched from 1975 to 1983.