Fresno WWII vet honored in Nisei medal tour
Congressional Gold Medal exhibit starts in New Orleans.
By Eddie Jimenez - The Fresno Bee
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 | 09:50 PM
Photo credit: John Walker.World War II veteran Clarence Suzuki, 86, shown during the 2012 Day of Remembrance Luncheon sponsored by the Central California District of the Japanese American Citizens League on February 19, 2012
Fresno resident Clarence Suzuki will be the lone Japanese-American World War II veteran from Central California at the opening of a Congressional Gold Medal tour in New Orleans this weekend.
But he said his comrades will be with him in spirit.
"I feel honored because I'm representing all my pals who are gone and those who can't make it," he said.
Suzuki, 87, who served in the Army from 1945-47, is among the Nisei veterans who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in November 2011 in Washington, D.C. He was an interpreter and interrogator for the Military Intelligence Service, which received the prestigious medal along with Nisei veterans from the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Nisei are second-generation Japanese-Americans. Many fought in WWII for the country that had interned them and their families.
Suzuki is one of 16 Nisei veterans representing 10 states at the New Orleans opening, said Christine Sato-Yamazaki, chairwoman of the National Veterans Network based in Los Angeles.
This weekend's event kicks off the seven-city tour of displaying the medal and informational and historical panels about the Nisei veterans' service during the war, Sato-Yamazaki said.
"It's really a great story of courage," she said.
After Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order in 1942 that led to the forced internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans, mainly those living along the West Coast.
Dale Ikeda, a Fresno County Superior Court judge, said the Nisei veterans' service displayed their character.
"Those who volunteered showed great patriotism in believing in their country's ideals of freedom, equality and justice, even though those rights were denied them and their families," said Ikeda, who is at the New Orleans event.
The tour is a partnership of the National Veterans Network, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
The medal exhibit will be accompanied by a social-learning website, an iPad application and curriculum at cgm.si.edu.
The national Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom are considered the highest civilian awards in the United States. Past Congressional Gold Medal recipients include George Washington, Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill.
Ikeda attended the Washington ceremony in November 2011. He was so moved that he wanted to give individual medals to local veterans, too. His late father, Hifumi Ikeda, served in the Military Intelligence Service.
"They proved their loyalty and paved the way for a better life for their families and future generations," Ikeda said.
In February, Suzuki and his comrades received bronze replicas of the medal at a luncheon in Clovis with about 700 people in attendance. Ikeda was a co-chairman of the luncheon. Nearly 50 veterans and about 60 spouses and family members were presented medals. The Central California District of the Japanese American Citizens League organized the Clovis event.
After Suzuki's military service, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry at the University of Hawaii, attending college through the GI Bill of Rights. He worked as a high-tech engineer in the Los Angeles area and San Jose before moving to Fresno about 14 years ago to be near his daughter, Anne Komoto, and her family.
The local Japanese American Citizens League nominated Suzuki to attend the tour opening. His wife, Thelma, 84, is with him in New Orleans.
The medal tour will be at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans until Feb. 17 before going on display for about a month to six weeks each in Honolulu; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Chicago and Houston this year.
Suzuki's invitation to the New Orleans opening prompted him to think about the dwindling number of his Nisei veteran comrades: "I'm one of the few guys still around."