Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Go For Broke Reception/Exhibition
Japanese Cultural Center, HI
November 10, 2017
Thank you very much, Dr. Maki, for that introduction. Before getting to my formal remarks, I want to recognize:
- The Go For Broke National Education Center and Ms. Hayashino and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i for hosting this tremendous event;
- Governor Ige – it’s great to join you once again to pay tribute to Nisei veterans – I’m always daunted to follow Governor Ige as he speaks from the heart, and I speak from prepared remarks;
- Ms. Tanoue, Senator Espero, state and national government leaders;
- Members of the diplomatic and consular corps;
- Fellow flag and general officers;
- Distinguished guests…
This is a special Veterans’ Day… to be able to share the day with these Nisei veterans.
Ladies and gentlemen, because I’m a military man, I’m going to focus my remarks on the “Go For Broke” part of the Americans of Japanese ancestry story. The Nisei warriors are all heroes in my book. They’re heroes in any book. So I’m honored to participate in this tribute to our Japanese-American World War II veterans.
As I’ve often said, the most important event in my life is World War II… and I wasn’t born until the 1950s.
You see, my father and four of his brothers fought in that war – enlisted men in the Navy and in the Army. Their sea stories and foxhole tales formed some of my earliest memories, and shaped the boy I was and the man I became.
Through them, I learned of the tremendous sacrifices of the Greatest Generation. Those who fought for victory helped achieve nothing less than the survival of the free world.
Through them I was inspired to serve.
Everyone who battled in that war suffered, but the Nisei warriors had to struggle with additional challenges like discrimination, distrust, and outright hostility… from the same country they were fighting to defend.
So it’s no exaggeration to say that I stand on the shoulders of giants. For me to be a Japanese-American 4-star admiral in command of all joint forces across the Indo-Asia-Pacific… well, it’s because of these Nisei trailblazers. 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.
At PACOM headquarters there’s a wall of photos and citations that reminds us of the sacrifices of some of our nation’s bravest individuals – those who received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry under fire.
In all, 21 Americans of Japanese ancestry received our nation’s highest award for heroism in World War II. Some of their stories are shared on the gallery walls of the exhibit today, showcasing examples of courage and compassion in the face of wartime hysteria.
Consider Senator Dan Inouye, who went on to serve Hawaii and the U.S. as a Senator and a key voice for American democracy. During the war, his unit was pinned down by fire from three machine gun placements.
With complete disregard for his personal safety, Senator Inouye destroyed two of the emplacements, engaging the enemy at close range, until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm and he lost consciousness.
His actions earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty.
Consider Staff Sergeant Masa Nakamura, who fought with his 442nd comrades in one of the greatest land battles to find the famous Lost Battalion of Texas. Masa’s unit endured staggering casualties and loss of life, but still managed to rescue 211 men in the Vosges Mountains of France.
Masa was awarded his first of three Purple Hearts for combat wounds sustained in that battle. And last month I had the distinct honor of celebrating Masa’s latest award, the French Legion of Honor, with his family and friends. Masa and the other Nisei warriors who’ve received this prestigious honor are heroes who served on the front lines, fought in the battles, bled on the battlefield, and helped liberate a nation.
Consider Hung Wai Ching, an American of Chinese descent, who became one of the most influential proponents of Japanese American loyalty, counseling Nisei on their response to peer criticism and racial animosity. As father of the Varsity Victory Volunteers and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, his actions played a direct role in the long struggle of Japanese Americans to bear arms and prove their ultimate loyalty to America.
One of the enduring legacies of the World War 2 service of the Nisei Veterans was the tremendous opportunities afforded to Japanese Americans in the decades following the end of the war. Consider Hawaii’s own Eric Shinseki and Mark Takai. General Shinseki joined the service after hearing his uncles’ tales in the 442nd, serving two combat tours in Vietnam, later becoming the first Asian-American 4-star officer and Chief of Staff of the Army… before becoming the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs. And Mark Takai, a principled leader and person of character, served our nation faithfully in Congress and in uniform including service in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM… he was a true Pacific warrior, leader, statesman, and patriot.
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.
I’m certain there are more stories in this audience of American heroes today who deserve our applause – stories of patriotism and courage in the face of adversity.
And there was a lot of adversity.
So let me be candid here. Our country hasn’t always dealt minorities and immigrants 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.
In 1946 President Truman, at a ceremony awarding the 442nd its seventh Presidential Unit Citation, said, ‘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.’
The Nisei warriors volunteered to fight for America and to wear the cloth of our nation… despite our country’s bigotry and prejudice. They were tested at home and in combat on battlefields around the world.
At home, through their deeds and examples, the Nisei veterans continued the fight … this time against the injustice of discrimination. Thanks in part to their efforts, today, our nation and our military embrace diversity – and we are stronger for it. But more than that, the Nisei veterans left us a lasting legacy of strength, freedom and prosperity.
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. For those of us who stand the watch today, we’ll continue to follow in your wake. We won’t let you down.
May God bless those veterans, and the brave men and women of our armed forces, each and every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen – past and present – who have stepped forward to defend our nation.
May God bless this beautiful state of Hawaii – and may God bless this land of liberty we call America. Thank you very much.