Placer County will pay tribute to its Japanese American World War II veterans Nov. 10 at a ceremony recognizing all who received the Congressional Gold Medal and Bronze Star Medal for their service.
In 2011, nearly 70 years after their service, thousands of Japanese American soldiers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award bestowed by Congress “to an individual or unit who performs an outstanding deed or act of service in the national interest of the United States.”
Receiving the gold medal were soldiers from the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.
Two men who served together during World War II reunited nearly 70 years after they met, when family members who knew each other realized the veterans might know each other. Norman Kamada and Frank Kageta, both veterans of the 442nd, shared their memories of the war and the events leading up to their service.
Kageta, 92, said his family had so integrated into American culture that it wasn’t until his high school graduation picnic in Sacramento that he realized he was different.
“After the picnic, they were going to go swimming, and they wouldn’t let me in,” at the pool, he remembered. “That’s the first time I thought, ‘Golly, what’s the matter with me?’”
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Kageta and about 110,000 Japanese Americans were put into internment camps, where they lived as prisoners under 24-hour guard. Kageta, who wanted to join the service, was told he could not volunteer because he was Japanese. It wasn’t until an act of Congress that allowed the Japanese to serve was passed that Kageta could sign up – but only once he had signed an oath of loyalty to the U.S.
After basic training in Ft. Blanding, Fla., Kageta was shipped to Italy with the 442nd, where he became part of a machine-gun team. He started out on the low end of the totem pole, hauling ammunition for the shooters, but quickly started moving up as members of the 4th Platoon were killed.
“It was just constant,” he remembered. “So many guys get killed and shot at that you never make friends. You don’t make friends with any of your buddies because the next day, he’s gone.”
One of the few people Kageta did get to know during the war was Kamada, who served with Company F in Italy. After the war ended, the men took leave to Switzerland together before re-enlisting for a year.
Kamada, 86, was born in Dinuba and grew up in Orange Cove. He and his family were put in an internment camp in 1942 in Arizona, where his family of six was assigned to a single room.
“I was pretty sorry for myself and my family,” Kamada said.
After Kamada’s father was sponsored by a business associate, the family moved to Utah and at age 18 Kamada registered for the draft and was inducted into the Army in 1944.
He traveled for 20 days aboard the British liner Lusitania before arriving in England; from there he was transported to France. Company F’s duty was to hold the line as a defensive maneuver. Kamada served on night patrol. Eventually, the unit was sent to Pariana, Italy, where it pushed the Germans north.
In April 1945, as the Germans were shelling the company, Kamada was injured by shrapnel and sent to the back line. He became a supply sergeant, and was awarded the Purple Heart. The small piece of shrapnel is still in his chest.
In 2011, Kageta and Kameda attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to honor the Congressional Gold Medal recipients.
Gary Hongo, a retired Air Force officer, served as an escort on the trip. He was able to accompany the veterans on the floor of the ceremony, which he said was an honor he’ll never forget. But once he got back to Placer County, he realized there were many veterans who had been unable to attend.
Hongo, president of the board of Placer Buddhist Church in Penryn, teamed up with the Placer County Japanese American Citizens League and United Methodist Church in Loomis to provide a local ceremony for the veterans who live or have lived in Placer County and their families.
The event, to be held at Del Oro High School, will honor 72 Japanese American veterans. Only a handful are still alive, Hongo said. Those who have died were awarded the medal posthumously and their widows and next of kin will accept the medal on their behalf.
Also honored at the ceremony will be those Japanese American soldiers awarded the Bronze Star Medal, a U.S. Armed Forces individual military decoration for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. The keynote speaker will be Vice Admiral Robert Kihune of Hawaii, retired, the first person of Hawaiian and Japanese ancestry to reach a three-star level in the Navy.
“It’s unfortunate that it took so long – 67 years – for these soldiers to be recognized,” Hongo reflected. “Like everything else, it’s better late than never.”
Bronze Star and Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Del Oro High School auditorium, 3301 Taylor Road, Loomis
Ted Reuo Adachi, 442nd RCT
Esamu Asazawa, 442nd RCT
Kazuo Jeff Asazawa, 442nd RCT
Morio Asazama, MIS
Joe Yuzoro Fujino, MIS
Dick Hideo Fujioka, MIS
Frank Fujita, MIS
George Goto, MIS
George Kiyota Hamada, 442nd RCT
Goichi Hamamoto, MIS
Kazuo Hamamoto, MIS
Masaharu Hata, 442nd RCT
George Ichikawa, MIS
James Y. Iso, MIS
Frank Kageta, 442nd RCT
Norman Kamada, 442nd RCT
Kazuo Kanai, 442nd RCT
Kay K. Kashiwabara, 442nd
Tom Kashiwabara, 442nd
Jack Kawana, 232 Combat Engineers Company
Norman Koyama, 442nd RCT K Company
Daniel M. Makabe, 442nd RCT Service Company
Wilson H. Makabe, 442nd I Company
Junius Matsumoto, 442nd RCT
Mervin M. Matsuoka
George Matsushita, 442nd RCT, I Company
Charles Shigeru Mayeda, MIS
Frank Masami Mayeda, MIS
George Morio Mayeda, 442nd RCT, I Company
Noboru Miyakawa, 442nd RCT, G Company
Yoshito Miyamura, 442nd RCT
Winston Itsuo Nakagama, 442nd RCT, E Company
George Nishikawa, 442nd RCT, H Company
Saburo Sam Nishimura, 442nd RCT, H Company
Yoshio William Nishimura, MIS
Alfred Nitta, 442nd RCT
Fred Ohnoki, 442nd RCT
Frank Shizuto Okusako, 442nd RCT, H Company
William Sakai, 442nd RCT, K Company
Calvis Sakamoto, MIS
Cosma Kazuma Sakamoto, MIS
Masa Sakamoto, 442nd RCT, E Company
Walter Wakatsu Sakamoto, 442nd RCT
Haruo Harry Sazaki, MIS
Minoru Fred Shimizu, 442nd RCT, B Company
Yoneo Takamoto, 442nd RCT
Ko Takuma, 442nd RCT
Joe Y. Uyeda
Masao Yamada, 442nd RCT
Tad Yego, MIS
Charles Yokota, MIS
Roy Yokote, 100th Battalion
George Kohei Yonehiro, 442nd RCT, I Company
Horace Yonehiro, MIS
Ayere Yusa, MIS
Henry Yusa, 442nd RCT, Medical Det.