The U.S. Congress held a ceremony on Capitol Hill back on November 2, 2011 to award the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian honor, to more than 1,000 Japanese-American veterans, many now in their 90s, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II.
The actual gold medal presented to these war heroes went on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in a special ceremony this Wednesday, Feb. 19, the “Annual Day of Remembrance,” marking the 72nd anniversary of the signing of the 1942 law by President Franklin Roosevelt which led to the imprisonment of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Ten of these veterans attended the ceremony, followed by a panel discussion at the Smithsonian. The medal will return to Washington, following a seven-city tour throughout the United States.
Japanese Americans born in the U.S. called themselves “Nisei.” Many were placed in internment camps after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Even though they were also exempt from the draft, about 19,000 Japanese-American soldiers volunteered for service. For many, it was a chance to show their loyalty to the United States.
The Gold Medal was presented collectively to the Army’s three Japanese-American units that fought in the Mediterranean and European theaters: the 100th Infantry Battalion, nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion, the “Go for Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).
Fighting their way through Italy, southern France and Germany, and finally sent to the Pacific Theater to serve as part of the occupation force in Japan, members of the 442nd made the unit the most highly decorated regiment in Army history. All told, the 13,000 soldiers serving in the regiment, received 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 9,486 Purple Hearts. One of those distinguished Medal of Honor winners, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) took part in the original ceremony.
The 100th Battalion was absorbed by the 442nd , but initially was a separate unit. It was composed of men from Hawaii who were part of the National Guard.
There were 3,000 Army trained linguists that served in the Asia-Pacific theater part of the MIS. These men had a numerous duties which included translating enemy documents, interrogating prisoners of war and persuading enemies forces to surrender. Because of the nature of their work, MIS achievements have been classified and are just now coming to light.
In 2010, Congress approved a special gold medal for the unit. President Obama signed the bill into law authorizing the award a year ago. A replica of the gold medal was given out to veterans, family members of deceased veterans, next of kin of soldiers killed in action and family members of veterans who participated in the ceremony.
You can view the actual medal now by visiting the National Museum of American history. The medal will be on display in the American Heroes exhibition now through June 1 on the third floor, east wing on the museum.
You can view our photos of the special ceremony on the “Annual Day of Remembrance” at the Smithsonian by clicking on the photo icons below.