Houstonians among World War II Japanese-American veterans honored by Congress

November 2, 2011 9:48:22 PM PDT
Thousands of Japanese-American veterans who served the country during world war two have the highest civilian honor. Sixty-six years after their bravery, they are being recognized, not just for their bravery during battle but also for the hostility they had to deal with on the home front.

A number of Houstonians were among the Japanese-American veterans honored with the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, as were all the men who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th infantry battalion and the military intelligence service during World War II.

The song may not be familiar to many people, but the Unit Fight song is familiar to Houstonian Kenneth Takehara, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and now Congressional Gold Medal honoree, along with the thousands of other Japanese-American World War II veterans who served their country in the face of discrimination.

"It's our motto, 'Go for broke,'" Takehara said.

"Go for broke" means to put it all on the line.

We met Takehara at his home in northwest Houston.

"What do you remember about World War II?" we asked him.

"I don't know," he said.

A series of vascular strokes has left the 88-year-old unable to remember a lot.

He knows that he served. He knows that he received two Purple Hearts after he was injured by shrapnel.

"Right here on my hip and on my hands and my head," Takehara said.

He has photos, medals and his old uniform jacket. But his memory is fading.

At the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, the veterans, all in their 80s and 90s, were honored.

"Two of their members were attacked on November 29, 2943 and they were attacked by 40 German soldiers," Speaker of the House John Boehner said. "Things turned out pretty badly for those Germans -- 38 killed, one wounded, one captured."

But the decades that have gone by since the end of World War II were clear today.

These old soldiers still salute at the national anthem. But they're more accustomed to wheelchairs than rifles these days.

"The congressional gold medal we present to these American heroes today is fitting and long overdue," U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said.

Tsutomu Okabayashi, AKA Tommie, had a nickname when he was in the service as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

"In the Army, they called me Tex," Okabayashi said.

The native Texan still tears up when he talks about signing up for the Army without telling his mom or dad.

"They put me in that day, and I came back home and told my dad you better take me to the airport, train station, so he did," he said.

But Okabayashi believes his service not only helped the United States win World War II, the veterans did "go for broke" and made the U.S. a better place back at home too.

"They beat the discrimination and prejudice," he said.

The veterans have collectively received seven Presidential Unit Citations, the highest military honor, and they are the most highly decorated unit of their size, with more than 9,000 decorations.

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