Obama signs bill granting JA soldiers highest honor


WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation Oct. 5 granting the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest U.S. civilian honor, to thousands of Japanese American soldiers who fought on World War II battlefields or conducted key intelligence operations, the White House said.

The text of the legislation cites the exploits of three army units — the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service formed by the soldiers born of immigrant parents from Japan.

Six weeks after the Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. Army changed the status of Japanese Americans to that of “enemy alien” which is ineligible for the draft. The Japanese Americans were moved to concentration camps in various U.S. locations.

The battalion and combat teams were formed by second-generation Americans of Japanese ancestry who volunteered to serve in the U.S. military. Their members fought in grueling battles in Italy, Germany and other European locations, suffering numerous casualties.

The legislation text also says the Military Intelligence Service members “conducted highly classified intelligence operations that proved to be vital to United States military successes in the Pacific Theatre.”

As a reason for honoring the three units, it says, “The United States remains forever indebted to the bravery, valor and dedication to country these men faced while fighting a two-fronted battle of discrimination at home and fascism abroad.”

The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, a major grouping of Japanese Americans, released a statement Oct. 5 commending the Congress and Obama for granting the medal, saying it has been awaiting the congressional and presidential recognition for many years.

A medal-awarding ceremony is scheduled to be held next year.

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