Nikkei veterans meet with other medal recipients

VETERANS ­— Tuskegee Airmen and Navajo Code Talkers joined Nisei veterans in celebrating their achievements in World War II despite experiencing racial discrimination during the war. Kyodo News photo

LOS ANGELES (Kyodo) — Japanese American war veterans who received one of the highest U.S. awards this week met for the first time with Navajo and African American recipients of the same honor for a celebratory dinner on Nov. 5, involving the three historically segregated military units.

The other groups received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000 and 2006, respectively. The dinner was organized by the Go For Broke National Education Center, a group working to preserve the history of the Nikkei World War II veterans.

All three groups willingly served in the U.S. military during World War II despite racial discrimination against them at the time. Some of the Japanese American soldiers volunteered for military service while their families were still confined in concentration camps.

Meeting men from the other segregated units had a deep emotional impact, a Japanese American veteran said. “I just hope the world will be a safer place to live now, for all of us,” he said.

“We certainly understand what motivated them to do the job they did…’This country is mine too’,” said retired Air Force Maj. Levi Thornhill, one of more than 900 Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans allowed to fly military aircraft and engage in combat whose performance discredited the view that African Americans were unfit to be pilots.

The code talkers were a small group of Navajo Marines who invented a military code based on their language, even while Navajo children in the United States were being punished for speaking their native tongue.

Samuel Tso, a code talker, remembered hearing Native Americans being called “dumb sheep herders” but said he would volunteer over again.

“All the people that live in America, they are also my people,” he said.

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