Japanese-American vets to get Gold Medal

Nov. 2, 2011 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- A Japanese-American U.S. soldier receiving the Congressional Gold Medal Wednesday helped prevent a massive Japanese suicide attack in World War II, he said.

"That was where I made my greatest contribution," Tom Sakamoto, 93, told the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

Drafted into the U.S. Army before Pearl Harbor and volunteering for the new and secret Military Intelligence Service, Sakamoto was trained as a linguist. At one point, he translated a Japanese message, written on rice paper, ordering a massive suicide attack on the south Pacific Admiralty Islands, where he was stationed, and alerted his commanders.

They ordered a naval bombardment of Japanese positions, and the suicide attack was headed off.

Sakamoto -- who was born in San Jose, Calif., but learned to speak Japanese in Japan, interrogated captured Japanese soldiers, many who called him a traitor for siding with the United States, he said.

He said there were times he had to avoid getting shot by U.S. soldiers mistaking him for the enemy.

Sakamoto and more than 1,000 other Japanese-American military veterans will be honored Wednesday on Capitol Hill with the Congressional Gold Medal for their extraordinary acts of service to the security, prosperity and national interest of the United States in World War II, officials said.

"I'm going for my colleagues in the secret school," Sakamoto told the Mercury News. "I'm going to receive the medal as an honor to them."

Of the 58 Nisei, or second-generation, Japanese-American classmates who started the secret intelligence-service school, only a handful are still alive, he said.

The Gold Medal is the nation's highest civilian award, equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The decoration will be awarded to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.

The 100th, which consisted of former members of the Hawaii Army National Guard, saw heavy combat during the war, later combining with the 442nd to form a single all-Nisei fighting combat team.

The 100th was referred to as the "Purple Heart Battalion," with the motto "Remember Pearl Harbor."

The 442nd fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France and Germany, becoming one of the most highly decorated regiments in the history of the U.S. armed forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.

Its motto was "Go for Broke."

About 13,000 Japanese-Americans were in the 100th and 442nd. More than 6,000 served in the Military Intelligence Service.

All told, about 33,000 Japanese-Americans served in World War II. Some enlisted and others were drafted from internment camps, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized in February 1942, two months after Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack.

Washington apologized for the camps in 1988 and eventually gave more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese-Americans who had been interned and their heirs.

More than 9,000 Japanese-American World War II veterans are still living.

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