Navy Adm. Harry B Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command, speaks at a tribute for Japanese-American veterans who served in World War II, in Honolulu, Dec. 5, 2015. The "Fighting Two Wars" event honored the bravery and loyalty of the Japanese Americans who served after Pearl Harbor, even in the face of discrimination and distrust. (Photo by DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
HONOLULU, Dec. 6, 2016 — Japanese-Americans served and fought valiantly for the United States during World War II, demonstrating bravery and loyalty in the face of hostility and discrimination, shaping the nation we live in today, according to the commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
Speaking yesterday at the "Fighting Two Wars" tribute to Japanese-American veterans of World War II, Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. said the veterans, known in Japanese as Nisei, or second generation, established a distinguished record of battlefield courage and achievement.
"The Nisei warriors literally shaped our military and our nation," Harris said at the event at the Hawaii Convention Center here that is part of the events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Even though Japanese-Americans faced opposition or were told they weren't qualified for military service after the Pearl Harbor attack, they persevered, Harris pointed out.
"Our country hasn't always dealt minorities and immigrants a fair shake -- even those who are American citizens," Harris said. "That said, 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."
After the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack, many Japanese-Americans were barred from U.S. military service, branded as enemies of their own country. Japanese-Americans were also forced into internment camps on the West Coast.
Honoring the Trailblazers
Harris said he was born in Japan and has spent almost half of his career in the Pacific. His father was an American sailor and his mother was Japanese, he said.
"It's no exaggeration for me to say that I stand on the shoulders of giants," the admiral said. "For me to be a Japanese-American four-star admiral in command of all joint forces across the Indo-Asia-Pacific, well it's because of these Nisei trailblazers."
Harris said he was inspired to serve because of his father and four uncles who all fought for America in World War II.
"Everything my father and uncles went through, the Nisei warriors went through -- and more," he said, "because they also had to deal with the discrimination, distrust, and outright hostility from the very same country they were defending with their very same lives, from our country, yours and mine."
The Japanese-American units included the 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. Three-hundred Nisei women joined the Women's Army Corps.
Twenty-one Americans of Japanese ancestry received the Medal of Honor during World War II, including the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was an Army officer who was recognized for actions in Italy in 1945.
Japan Plays Key Peacekeeping Role Today
Harris lauded Japan's role today in helping to maintain global peace and security -- and noted the Asia-Pacific is a region that is strategically important to the United States.
The United States, he said, needs to expand partnerships among like-minded nations to uphold the rules-based global operating system that arose after World War II. That will allow the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to continue along the prosperous and peaceful path that has served it so well for more than 70 years, he said.
"Today, Japan is a critical part of that network and a staunch defender of the global operating system," he said.
President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are scheduled to meet later this month in Hawaii, said Harris, noting both leaders will visit the Pearl Harbor memorial together. This would be the first time a Japanese prime minister will have visited the memorial, he said.
"This reconciliation is part of the great legacy of the Nisei veterans," Harris said.