PE Obama formally announced that Gen. Eric Shinseki will be his Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The former Army Chief of Staff went head-to-head with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a couple of occasions, most notably for his prediction that far more troops would be required to invade and secure Iraq. More on his background and his belief in new army combat in this article written in 2003.
My friend Sunyoung actually called me yesterday to tell me the news and to remind me that today is 12/7, Pearl Harbor Day. PHD was a big day for the U.S. It mobilized this country to intervene in the expansion of fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. (It also led to the U.S. occupation of Japan which eventually led to the reinvention and rebirth of manga.)
But PHD was also the day that the U.S. drafted a new order, EO9066, which pulled Japanese American families on the Mainland out of their homes and relocated them to internment camps. Japanese American men were allowed to serve in the military a couple of years later when the U.S. military formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 1943 and sent them to the Western Front.
Shinseki credits the 442nd and the 100th Battalion (the first all JA/nisei military unit) for paving his way. You can find out more about the 442nd at the Go for Broke website where there are video interviews with veterans like Hawai’i Senator Daniel Inoue who talks about losing his arm in combat:
” And then suddenly, a German stood up, that I remember. And he pointed a rifle at me. And I could see in the muzzle, a grenade. One of those grenade launchers. And I thought, “Oh boy, he’s going to fire at me and my whole body will explode.” He fired and he, thank God was a lousy shot. He hit my elbow. At that time, I had a grenade in my right hand and I was about to throw that and that’s when I saw him and he shot my elbow. And this part I remember. I looked around for the grenade. Because the pin had already been pulled. And men were in the back of me. I didn’t want them to get shot at. So I’m looking around and all of a sudden I look at my arm and it’s dangling. And the grenade is firmly in the grip, the muscles get frozen. So I peeled it off and I threw it. My aim was good, fortunately. And then this is the part that I am not too sure of, but the men remember this part. I picked up the gun with my left hand, my sub-machine gun. And I started moving forward to attack the last machine gun. It must have been a bloody sight. With my arm dangling and blood squirting and I’m firing this gun. When you think back, it’s crazy and sometimes you chuckle about it.”
And Colonel Young Kim (who is Korean but stayed on with the 442nd) who talks about what was at stake for soldiers:
“if the stigma that the Japanese Americans were living under was to be removed, then we had to do well in combat…By doing well, it meant that we had to do well – make a good record, but we had to shed blood. And that some and not many of us were never going to return. But that was a price we had to pay. We also discussed what could we do if we did well. And we all recognized that we couldn’t make any changes economically because none of us had reached that kind of promise or that kind of wealth. At least not in a short period of time. And so the only possible solution was to control the community politically. So therefore, we couldn’t gain political control unless again, we made a good record…But I don’t think there was doubt in anyone’s mind that they had a goal and they had to do well. And that, and everyone knew many of us were not coming home.”
The 100th Battalion/442nd was one of the most decorated units receiving 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Star Medals, over 4,000 Bronze Stars, 9,486 Purple Heart Medals, and 7 Presidential Unit Citations. For a while, the unit was only awarded one Congressional Medal of Honor:
In 1945, American-born Sadao Munemori posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his service “above and beyond the call of duty.” His mother, Nawa Munemori, received word of her son’s death while living behind barbed wire in Manzanar concentration camp.
In 2000, President Clinton honored 20 Japanese American veterans with the medal, but by then, many of the former soldiers had already passed away. When the NYTimes covered this, it was a tiny article buried in the A1 section with a photo that was primarily widows and a few surviving veterans.
So basically, this is a big day. All that sacrifice has finally come full circle. So far, no one has talked about a) the irony/importance of Shinseki being Japanese American, or b) the significance of PE Obama waiting to go official with his announcement until PHD. Someone’s probably working on an op-ed piece about this for a later edition of the Times, but for some of us, we kinda just want it now.