By Ashley Gebb/ADagebb 9/15/2012
Louise Fukumitsu, 88, looks at a Congressional Gold Medal
awarded to Koe Hinoki, a childhood friend from Colusa.
Hinoki was among 18 recipients of the medal at the
Marysville Buddhist Church on September 15, 2012.
When Frank Komatsubara told his parents, Japanese Americans interned at the Amache relocation center during World War II, he was volunteering to serve in the military, his father said he would disown him.
Yet the young Yuba City man decided to pursue the service anyway, believing that as someone born in the United States, he had an obligation to serve his country. A few years after signing up, he finally was discharged, but not after facing combat and amassing several medals.
His father later said he was proud of Komatsubara. On Saturday, he was honored with 17 other Japanese-American Congressional Gold Medal recipients for service in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
Fighting both the enemy abroad and prejudice at home, they were responsible for great victories for their country, said US Rep. Wally Herger, who presented the medals. "Members of these units are some of the greatest patriots in our nation's history," he said. "These courageous men truly did wager everything to protect our nation's freedoms."
As Japanese Americans were interned in camps, classified as unsuitable for military duty and cast out as enemies even if they were born in the U.S., many young men still stood up to volunteer to for military service. Many of them served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, the first US Army combat unit comprised entirely of Japanese Americans; the 442nd RCT team, an all-volunteer Japanese American combat unit; and the Military Intelligence Unit, where they performed secret intelligence work against the Japanese military.
Lorraine Komatsubara, accepting the award posthumously on her husband's behalf, said the medal was quite an honor. Until his death in 1993, Frank Komatsubara was immensely proud of his service.
"He just felt like he had to prove he was an American," she said. About 200 people gathered at the Marysville Buddhist Church for the ceremony and gave raucous applause for each man who received a medal. Only 4 of the 18 medal recipients are alive: George Inouye, Yutaka Nakatani, Jiro Okikawa and Kenneth Tanabe.
Nakatani, 88, said his only wish would have been that the others so deserving of the honor were still alive and able to accept their medals themselves.
The ceremony was a follow-up to one held in November in Washington, DC, where about 400 able-bodied Nisei veterans gathered to receive their gold medals.
The Marysville chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League wanted to host a local ceremony for all the men who were not able to attend the first honoring. It acknowledged that more area residents may also have been deserving of the medal but did not respond to the call for applications the league sent out earlier this year.
Only a teen when his family was sent to Amache, an internment camp in Colorado, the injustice was not a deterrent to Tanabe when he was drafted in 1944. His father told him the decision on whether he would follow through was up to him, and nearly 70 years after serving with the 442nd RCT, he is proud of his service and his new Congressional Gold Medal. "It's a great honor for all of us," he said. "It was a group effort."
Lucille Tokuno's two brothers-in-law were recipients, and she helped accept their medals posthumously. Shiro Tokuno served in the Military Intelligence Service and Tim Tokuno was part of the 442nd RCT. "It was very emotional for me," she said. "I've always admired them for what they did. They really sacrificed their lives and fought for their country."