Memorial Day Salute. Left to Right: Gerald Yamada, LTG Michael K. Nagata, USA, (Ret); LTC Mark Nakagawa, USA (Ret), Capt. (Dr.) Cynthia Macri, MC, USN (Ret), Howard High, Turner Koyabashi. Photo: N. Ford.
Arlington National Cemetery. Members of the Japanese American Citizens League, Washington DC Chapter, the Japanese American Veterans Association, and the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation gathered for the 73rd time on Sunday, May 30, 2021, to pay tribute to Japanese American soldiers who lost their lives in defense of our nation and all soldiers buried at Arlington.
The Memorial Day Service program, which has been organized every year since 1948 by the Kobayashi family and is the longest-running Memorial Day Service at Arlington, opened with a welcome by Turner Kobayashi. After a warm greeting, Turner acknowledged guests including the Principal of Spark Matsunaga Elementary School, Mr. James Sweeney. He also recognized two Japanese American soldiers who recently passed away and are at Arlington National Cemetery: Capt. Norio Bruce Endo, USN, and Sgt. Kay Megumi Sato, 442nd RCT. Turner then turned the podium over to event speakers.
JACL DC Chapter Co-President Linda Sato Adams reflected on the Service's theme of “Honoring the Legacy of the Nisei Soldiers” by sharing memories of her father's experiences during World War II. Although her father did not speak often about his military days, Ms. Sato Adams did recall him opening up about his Camp Shelby training after a visit to a Smithsonian exhibit titled A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the US Constitution. Her father described the unspoken ethos of the JA soldiers, which despite differences between the "Buddha heads and Katonks," was to help those lagging behind - carrying their pack, gun, whatever it took - so that all could succeed. Although the war stories were few, her father's tales always conveyed the strong bonds and kinship the soldiers in the 100th/442nd had for one another. Next, JAVA President Gerald Yamada commented on the recent rise in anti-Asian sentiment and reminded listeners of the personal struggle Japanese American soldiers in WWII faced as they defended the U.S. while enduring, along with their families, unjust treatment under the law and discrimination from other Americans. Answering the call to serve and having faith in America allowed Japanese American soldiers to overcome prejudice. Yamada urged all to look to the Japanese American soldiers of World War II, "follow their example and do what we can to ensure that the government provides equal protection to all Americans. (See Yamada's full remarks below.) Following Gerald Yamada, NJAMF Board member and longtime JAVA member, LTC Mark Nakagawa, U.S. Army (Ret), remarked on the hard and arduous path of Japanese American World War II soldiers, one paved with heroism, valor, and loss of life. That path opened up opportunities for subsequent generations to serve and take on leadership roles in Korean, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts. He added that the qualities and values, such as "gaman" (enduring the seemingly unendurable quietly and with patience), "giri "(one's duty to follow the strict rules and norms of society), and "on" (obligation) that led to JA soldiers' military success, are also evident in the 15-year stamp campaign that is culminating in the USPS release of the Go For Broke Forever Stamp. By honoring the legacy of 100th, 44nd, and MIS soldiers, Nakagawa is certain that these important values will be passed down.
After an introduction by Gerald Yamada, noting a distinguished 38-year career in the military, Keynote Speaker, LTG Michael K. Nagata, U.S. Army (Ret), recounted and inspired listeners with the origins of Memorial Day which can be traced back to the Civil War and the more recent genesis of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. (See LTG Nagata's full remarks below.) General Nagata also underscored that the sacrifices and contributions of the Nisei and Asian American and Pacific Islander soldiers "are a reminder of the strength and vibrancy of an America that, at its best, strives to harness and propel the virtues and strengths of all of its people, regardless of origins, religion, race, gender, and so on." General Nagata then movingly recounted his early military career and lessons learned in responding to bigotry and prejudice. He recommended that listeners rather than succumb to outrage and frustration, should "choose a different path...that combines recognizing how far we have progressed despite all of our remaining flaws and terrible failures. It is the path that accepts the risk of trying to be better; which also requires the courage of attempting solutions that may fail, but by learning from failure, as humans always have, we will learn to make future progress." With his message of effort despite great obstacles, General Nagata gave listeners hope as they looked out on the markers of those who had sacrificed so much.
Michelle Amano, the grandaughter of Mike Masaoka, then offered a Special Tribute to her great uncle Ben Frank Masaoka who was killed while fighting to free the lost Texas Battalion. She shared the last exchange between her grandfather and his brother Ben Frank. Ben Frank was drawn to help his comrades press on and went to the front line even though his commanding officer had told him he could remain in a less hazardous area. Ben Frank exemplified honor and duty. She followed the tribute with a reading of the Japanese American Creed which was penned by her grandfather. A bugler's somber TAPs brought the 73rd Memorial Day Service to a close.
[EdNote: The 73rd Memorial Day Service was livestreamed and recorded on the JAVA Facebook page. To view a recording of the 2021 Memorial day Service click here.]