In Oakland, meet Japanese-American WWII vets May 20

A bunch of guys who aren’t heroes are coming to Oakland in two weeks. I’m not being harsh. Just ask any one of them, and he’ll tell you, “I’m no hero; I was just doing my job.” Then he’ll point to another guy and say, “Ask him.

He’s the hero.” So you ask Guy Number Two, and he says, “I’m no hero; I was just doing my job. Ask that guy over there.”

And, of course, Guy Number Three gives you the same routine. Ditto for Guy Number Four. And Number Five.

And after a while you catch on: None of them will admit to being a hero himself. But they’re very, very proud of having served in the company of heroes. The irony is that they aren’t just heroes; they’re the greatest American military heroes of all.

That might sound like exaggeration, but the numbers don’t lie. They are veterans of E Company, Second Battalion, of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated Japanese-American World War II regiment that was awarded more medals, man for man, than any other military unit in American history. Even more remarkably, many of them were performing these heroics for Uncle Sam while their own families were languishing behind barbed wire in concentration camps back here at home for the crime of having Japanese ancestry.

It’s hard to imagine a more moving example of returning good for evil. Every year on Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, they return to a redwood grove in Oakland’s Roberts Park for a memorial service to honor their friends who never came back – and, by extension, everyone who fought in World War II and all American wars. There aren’t too many left now.

I wish you could have met the late Tsuni Takemoto, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for charging up a steep hill against a heavily entrenched, heavily camouflaged German machine gun nest that had pinned down his entire platoon at the bottom of the hill, spraying bullets from his automatic rifle and screaming at the top of his lungs, trying to draw as much fire on himself as possible so his buddies could spot where the Germans were hiding by the flashes from their muzzles. But Lawson Sakai is still here, and he’ll be speaking at the ceremony. He was awarded four Purple Hearts (technically speaking, a Purple Heart with four Oak Leaf Clusters).

And he should have been awarded a fifth, but he turned it down because he didn’t think his wound was serious enough. He says he’s not a hero, either. The service will take place May 20 at noon.

It won’t be long, but it will be memorable. And the men of Easy Company invite you to join them. Roberts Park is at 10579 Skyline Blvd.

Follow the signs for the Chabot Space & Science Center and take the first turnoff on the right to Roberts Park. Tell the guard at the gate that you’re there for the ceremony, and you’ll be directed to the far parking lot. Then follow the sounds of patriotic music into the park to the 442nd RCT Memorial Redwood Tree.

In this era, when rock guitarists are called heroes, here’s your chance to meet the real thing, even if they won’t admit it.

Reach Martin Snapp at [email protected]

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