By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Tosh Tokunaga jumped out of airplanes for the United States during World War II as part of an Airborne Division that fought in Europe. On June 21, he was present at the rededication ceremony of the United States Courthouse in downtown Seattle to pay tribute to William Kenzo Nakamura, a Japanese American WWII veteran that gave his life for the United States.
Tokunaga and members of the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee presented the U.S. flag and led a distinguished audience in the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the rededication ceremony.
Nakamura was born in Seattle in 1922. His family stayed in the area and he graduated from Garfield High School. He was studying at the University of Washington when World War II began and all persons of Japanese ancestry were relocated to internment camps.
Despite the fact that his country initially imprisoned him and his family, Nakamura and his brother enlisted into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The group was mostly comprised of Japanese American soldiers. The 442nd became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
Nakamura bravely fought the German army in Italy. In 1944, under immense German machine gun fire, Nakamura crawled, by himself, near the machine gunners and threw hand grenades at them which halted the gunfire.
Unfortunately, Nakamura died later that day while attempting to draw gunfire away from his platoon. He died on July 4 — American Independence Day.
His commander recommended Nakamura for a Medal of Honor, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he posthumously received the medal. The U.S. Courthouse in Seattle was renamed after Private Nakamura in March 2001.
Similar to Nakamura, Tokunaga fought for his country despite the fact that the United States classified all Japanese Americans as enemies. Tokunaga was a member of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
He recognizes the ultimate sacrifice paid by Nakamura. “We’re proud of him for what he did. [We’re] glad the government saw fit to dedicate this building [in his name],” said the 84-year-old Tokunaga at the rededication ceremony.
Federal judges were in attendance for the ceremony held in the en banc courtroom — a courtroom which includes judicial seating for all of the federal judges of the ninth circuit.
Also present at the gathering were elected officials, community leaders, practicing attorneys, and representatives of the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversaw the renovation project. Another courtroom was opened up that allowed more people wishing to view the ceremony on a closed-circuit television.
The program included featured remarks by Rep. Jim McDermott. McDermott identified the injustice of the internment experienced by Japanese Americans. “Nakamura lost civil rights and America lost its way,” McDermott stated. He noted that while many did not know of Nakamura’s personal story, he became a symbol for social justice. McDermott sponsored HR 5302, the legislation that designated the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle in Nakamura’s name.
“Although the [Nakamura] name is outside, he is a symbol for over 110,000 Japanese Americans,” added Steve Finley, the general services administration director.
Chief Judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Hon. Alex Kozinski described Nakamura as “a patriot in the truest sense.”
“It’s easy to love a country that treats you well,” he said. “It’s not so easy when you are being mistreated.”
The ceremony also marked the successful completion of a three-year project to renovate and modernize the Nakamura Courthouse. The courthouse was the first building in the west designed exclusively as a federal courthouse. The original building was completed in 1940. It will house the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Marshal’s Office, and U.S. Tax Court.
As part of the renovation, the Nakamura Courthouse will include displays that house information about Nakamura and other Seattle area Nisei veterans. ♦
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.