Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Hawaii Nisei Veterans' Luncheon
Hale Koa Hotel, HI
April 21, 2018
Please, a moment of silence for the passing of Senator Akaka.
Good afternoon, folks. I want you all to know that I'm deeply honored to receive the “Hero For Our Time” award and share this beautiful day with so many tremendous American patriots. This is a truly humbling day.
Before getting started, I’d like to acknowledge:
(State and local government leaders), (members of the diplomatic and consular corps), (distinguished guests)
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful for this opportunity to address our Nisei veterans and their family members from the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, the 1399th and many other important Japanese American community groups.
While I was preparing my remarks for this event I asked my wife Bruni for some advice and she said to me: “Harry, don’t try to be too charming, too witty, or too intellectual... you know, just be yourself.”
I guess I'm supposed to talk about me and what I’m doing. I've spoken at many retirement and promotion ceremonies over the years. While these events focus on one person, the military member, the story is not really about an individual – it's about family, about friends, and about colleagues, past and present.
A successful career in the military is not possible without the influence of family growing up, support of family while you’re deployed or in combat, and the support of friends, shipmates, and battle buddies throughout.
My own career – like many of yours – is shaped by deep friendships I formed in hard places… friendships that have supported me when I most needed it. My career also reflects the special association of the Japanese American community in general, from which I have drawn much of my strength.
So today, I’d like to discuss the importance of our Nisei community – both as a citizen and as a government executive of our great nation. Like you, I believe that service to our country – whether you wear a uniform or a suit – is a noble cause. I learned the value of duty and obligation from my parents: my father, a Southerner from Tennessee who served in the Navy during World War II and in Japan and Korea after the war... and my mother, who was born in Japan and survived the war's devastation. They met during the Occupation of Japan and were married in the mid-1950s.
While my father inspired me to serve, it was my mother who taught me the true meaning of service. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and the twin concepts of giri and gimu – obligation and duty. These concepts have served me well throughout my career, almost half of which has been here in the Pacific.
Both of them are gone now, but I can still hear their stories they told me of sacrifice and courage… stories such as the heroic deeds of Japanese American Nisei soldiers who fought so valiantly during World War II. The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, the 522nd, the 232nd, 1399th, and the 300 Nisei women who joined the Women’s Army Corps… theirs is a legacy of service that has a special resonance for me.
So it's no exaggeration to say that I join Generals Shinseki and Nakasone, standing on the shoulders of giants. For me to be where I am today – a Japanese American 4-star admiral in command of all U.S. joint military forces across half the earth – well it’s because of these Nisei trailblazers. They inspired me when I was growing up; they inspired me after I joined the Navy; and they continue to inspire me today.
While Japanese Americans no longer face the widespread oppression of previous years, it's important that we uphold our duty and obligation to push for equality in both the civilian and military sectors. As public stewards we must live up to the highest standards, and I charge all of you to take up the banner of vigilance and stamp out inequality in all its forms.
A former naval officer – and President of the United States – John F. Kennedy, once said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” That’s powerful stuff.
I believe this is exactly what makes our military the greatest in the world. It's what makes us stronger – our melting pot of America.
Let me be candid here. Our country hasn’t always dealt immigrants and minorities a fair shake. Even so, the many cultures resident in the American experience share a common underpinning of honor, pride, and perseverance that has added immeasurably to our strength as a Nation.
So, I’m thrilled to be standing before you, as a Japanese American, celebrating our heritage in this new age, where diversity is embraced by a larger percentage of our society than ever before.
We're not where we need to be yet – we must continue to talk to it and work at it – but I believe we're on the right track.
We’re fortunate to live in a country, and work for a government, that values diversity. As members of that government, we must honor the work of those who've gone before us. Those heroes literally fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. We preserve their legacy by staying resolute and promoting equality, not just for Japanese Americans, but for all Americans. As Senator Inouye once said, "Americanism is not a matter of skin or color."
As stewards of the public trust, it isn't just our responsibility to promote a world that honors diversity by respecting values of fairness and equality... but it's also our duty to teach future generations about those who have fought and won the battles for social justice.
America’s Nisei warriors fought for nothing less than the survival of the free world; their stories of patriotism and courage in the face of adversity must continue to be told. These warriors triumphed over ignorance, oppression, and injustice to make indelible contributions, not only to our military history, but even more importantly to our American history. They are an integral part of our Nation’s story. Their accomplishments have shaped our world and impacted our lives.
As President Truman said about our Nisei veterans in 1946, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win, to make this great Republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time.”
Indeed, our Nisei warriors represent the diversity and character of our great nation. They’re leaders and volunteers, inside and outside of the service. They’re role models for our citizens. And they exemplify the highest standards of service: at home and abroad; at seas and ashore; in combat and in times of peace.
There can be no doubt that America’s Nisei veterans have given much to ensure that our great nation stays free. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who served – to all those who were injured… and especially to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll conclude by saying that the banner of freedom advances in our world only when brave men and women take it up. That’s what the Nisei veterans did, leaving us a lasting legacy of strength, freedom, and prosperity. For those of us who stand the watch today, we’ll continue to follow in your wake. We won’t let you down.
So on behalf of the nearly 400,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Department of Defense civilians who comprise U.S. Pacific Command, I humbly accept this great honor.
May God bless those veterans, and the brave men and women of our armed forces; each and every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and DoD civilians – past and present – who have stepped forward to defend our nation.
May God bless each of you, this beautiful state of Hawaii, and this land of liberty we call America. Thank you very much.