By Jessica Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The room was packed to the gills. At one table sat dignitaries from the United States and Japan, including U.S. congressmen, the Japanese Consul General in Seattle, and high-ranking officers from the U.S. and Japanese armed forces.
At another table were surviving members of the 442nd battalion, including a soldier of the 100th infantry — a segregated Japanese American Army unit that is the most decorated for its size in history — as well as Japanese Americans who served in U.S. military intelligence.
Ranged throughout the rest of the hall were representatives from both civilian and military organizations interested in supporting Japan-U.S. relations, and the young service members participating in a joint U.S.-Japan military exercise called Rising Thunder.
“Beyond Reconciliation: Celebrate Japan-U.S. Alliance and Honor Nisei Veterans” is an event that has been held by the Nisei Veterans’ Committee (NVC) in Seattle for several years. In the past couple of years, NVC has partnered with other organizations, such as Japan-America Society and the Japan U.S. Military Program, to bring together this group of individuals in a spirit of partnership in both wartime and peacetime. The Sept. 9 event at the NVC Memorial Hall, allowed Japanese and U.S. soldiers to mingle in a social environment, and to get to know the community — and their shared history.
There were moving speeches from key figures, as well as complimentary lunch and entertainment from OKK Taiko (dancing a must).
Current NVC Commander Walter Tanimoto explained the purpose of the event.
“It provides a cultural aspect to the Rising Thunder exercise…While they’re in Yakima, they’re working on their war fighting skills. The portion that we can provide is the Japanese American experience.” One of the biggest parts of the Japanese American experience is that of internment during World War II and the heroism of the Japanese American men who nevertheless chose to fight for the United States during the war. Many of those gathered at the Hall admitted they didn’t know very much about either, which validated the importance of these gatherings.
Japan’s Consul General to Seattle, Yoichiro Yamada, asked the audience if they had heard of the Japanese Americans who fought for the United States during WWII.
“I am asking,” Yamada said, “because I had not known about them before I came to Seattle.” Yamada went on to describe the actions of the 100th, such as rescuing a group of Texan soldiers from behind enemy lines.
Yamada also mentioned the difficulties Japanese Americans encountered when they returned from the camps, and from the war.
“The road they walked was a hard one, but they walked it with dignity, diligence, and perseverance,” Yamada said. “Today, Japan enjoys an excellent relationship with the United States, despite that bitter war…What I learned in Seattle is that the trust Japan enjoys among the Americans today is thanks to the great attitude of the Japanese Americans before, during, and after the war.”
Underlying the entire occasion was the current political, cultural, and societal backdrop. More than once, tensions in the Pacific theater were mentioned, and the increased value of the Japan-U.S. alliance was due to the threatening posture of countries such as North Korea.
Retired Rear Adm. James Kelly, president of the John Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange here in Washington, stated, “I think this is the most important alliance we’ve got. I think it’s particularly important if you look at potential problems, issues, and threats. Our teams that are assigned overseas…they’ve gotta be in sync with our Japanese counterparts.”
After the event, servicemen lined up to shake the hands of the Nisei veterans and say thank you. National Japan-America Society President Peter Kelley said, “Immigration laws today are under fire. We still have to keep track and be aware of what happened back then, and see if we can’t be better…today. Don’t you think?” The audience responded, “Hear! Hear!”
Jessica Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.