Digital exhibit to tell Nisei veterans’ stories

The stories of the World War II Nisei soldiers, including heroes like Kazuo Masuda, Takejiro Higa and the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, will be highlighted in the upcoming Congressional Gold Medal Digital Exhibition, which the National Veterans Network in association with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, will develop, a statement issued by these entities said.

The medal is currently on display in the museum’s Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibition. The digital exhibition is scheduled to launch in 2016. A video for the digital exhibition will be on view with the medal.

According to the statement, Masuda gave his life for his country, while his family was incarcerated in Arkansas and his father was isolated in a detention camp in Montana. Born and raised in Westminster, Calif. to a farming family, Matsuda enlisted in the Army before the United States entered the war. Eventually assigned to F Company of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Staff Sgt. Masuda saved two of his men by holding off the enemy in action near Florence, Italy, in 1944 but was killed, the statement said. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

When his family tried to resettle in Santa Ana, Calif., they were met with threats of violence and Masuda was refused burial in the local cemetery. The Army responded by sending an official delegation to present the medal to his family. One of the officials was Capt. Ronald Reagan, who thanked Kazuo’s parents for their son’s heroism.

Decades later when the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was passed by Congress and was sent to Reagan, the bill’s fate was uncertain. Proponents of Japanese American redress shared a letter from Masuda’s sister, June Masuda Goto, which reminded Reagan of Masuda’s sacrifice, the statement said. Reagan signed the bill into law on Aug. 10, 1988.

Takjiro Higa was born in Waipahu, Hawai‘i, but went to Okinawa with his siblings and mother when he was 2. Higa remained in Okinawa until he was 16. Upon returning to Hawai‘i in 1939, he entered Farrington High School to improve his English. He eventually volunteered and went to the Military Intelligence Service Language School.

Higa was assigned to the 96th Infantry Division and his “intimate knowledge of Okinawa’s terrain, language (different from Japanese) and customs … proved invaluable to the American invasion.” Working as a translator, interpreter and interrogator, Higa provided vital intelligence during the three-month battle. He was responsible for saving lives by convincing civilians hiding in caves to surrender rather than kill themselves by speaking to them in the Okinawan dialect, the statement said.

The late Inouye served as Hawai‘i’s long-time U.S. senator, having been elected eight times, beginning in 1962. He became President pro tempore of the Senate in 2010, placing him third in line of succession to the presidency.

Inouye was among the thousands of Japanese Americans who volunteered for the military. A member of E Company, Inouye rose to 2nd Lieutenant when, in 1945, his company attacked a German stronghold in San Terenzo, Italy. Inouye crawled to within five yards of a machine gun, which he neutralized, but a grenade shattered his right arm, which was amputated, the statement said. Initially presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, Inouye was later recognized with the Medal of Honor along with 19 other members of the 442nd RCT by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

After his passing in 2012, Inouye was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The digital exhibition is funded in part by the National Parks Service and is a partnership between the NVN and the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center and the National Museum of American History.

 

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