by Karleen C. Chinen (Bito Doshi Kai)

“On behalf of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, I would like to thank you for your generous donation. We thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts.”

With those words to 10 humble veterans representing their wartime buddies in the 442nd Veterans Club, HUOA President Jimmy Iha formally thanked the veterans groups for the $5,000 gift they made to the Hawaii Okinawa Center a decade ago at a special presentation held April 16 at the Center. The donation was inadvertently overlooked during the installation of the “Wall of Honor” in the Teruya Pavilion.

Iha said he regretted that the thousands of people who passed through the Center had not seen the proud name of the 442nd Veterans Club as a ground-floor supporter of the Hawaii Okinawa Center. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team earned the distinction of being the most decorated unit of its size and length of time in battle in U.S. military history.

A veteran of the Vietnam War who retired from the Army Reserves, Jimmy Iha took the opportunity to express his personal gratitude to the Nisei veterans whose trailblazing in World War II cleared the path for minorities in all walks of life. “As an individual who served in the U.S. Army, I’d like to thank you veterans — I’ve never done this in front of you — for what you have done for me. When I went into the service, I was treated really well.”

Iha recalled the words of one of his regimental commanders who told him to always remember the legacy of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Battalion. “They were courageous in battle and they were dedicated individuals who were professionals who knew how to soldier. So it’s your responsibility, in turn, to train your soldiers to the best of your ability,” admonished his commander. “I followed that throughout my career in the Army, and I thank you for that,” said Iha.

He also credited the veterans for clearing the groundbreaking role they played more than a half-century ago that enabled a third generation American of Japanese ancestry from Kauai, Eric Shinseki, to become the highest-ranking general in the U.S. Army. “Isn’t that something! And I really think it’s all due to the hard work and effort of you people,” said HUOA’s 2001 President.

“I’m sure right now our Issei — the people who we built this Center for — are looking down upon this gathering and I’m sure they’re very pleased to know that we have honored the 442nd for their generous donation and at the same time honored their sons who made the supreme sacrifice for their country.”

442nd Veterans Club President Katsugo “Kats” Miho spoke on behalf of the veterans group. Miho said he had been to the Hawaii Okinawa Center many times during his daughter Mariko Miho’s tenure as the Center’s executive director (mid-1993 to Dec. 1994). “I’ve never had a chance to thank all of you for taking good care of her when she was working here,” he said, choking back tears. “You folks gave her all the support, so as a father, I feel very grateful to the Okinawan Association.”

Miho, who served in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd recognized his fellow 522nd veteran, Hideo Nakamine, who, more than 10 years ago, suggested that the 442nd make a donation to the Center. The suggestion made its way to the 442nd Board, which voted to make a $5,000 donation to the Center. Nakamine is a member of Onna Sonjin Kai and Hui Makaala.

The $5,000 gift was a sizable sum for the club, but the 442nd Board wanted to support the effort to build the Center, Miho said. The fact that the 442nd’s gift had never been acknowledged on the “Wall of Honor” was brought to the attention of the Hawaii Okinawa Center by Nakamine, and steps were taken immediately to rectify the oversight.

Miho noted that as the years pass and the veterans pass on, the question of how to preserve the legacy of the Nisei soldiers has become an increasing concern. “I believe that we have to depend on organizations such as yours to carry on the legacy. The fellowship and the membership of veterans organizations, especially in Hawaii, is very unique. It’s built upon three years of living together and struggling through unspeakable horrors. As a result, you build a comradeship which is hard to pass on to our sons and daughters. The legacy of the Nisei, Sansei must be passed on to cultural organizations such as yours and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii,” said Miho.

“The United States is built on many different cultures — that is the strength of the United States,” he continued. “But you’ve got to build and preserve the various cultures so that the best of each can be taught to the children who come along later on and make it into the kind of society that we can be proud of.”

HUOA Administration Committee chair Jimmy Toyama offered the evening’s closing remarks. The Administration Committee, working with the HUOA staff, planned the evening’s program and reception.

Toyama thanked the veterans for coming out to the Center to witness the formal unveiling of the 442nd Veterans Club plaque on the Wall of Honor and to accept the thanks of the HUOA.

“It’s not just the $5,000 that you gave us,” said Toyama. “I think what we need to acknowledge you for is actually the trailblazing that you did in your service to the country that actually, long ago, made this facility possible — because really, when you think about it, history could have been written differently. But, because of your hard work, your bravery, your sacrifice, I think you’ve made it possible for other people — for people like us — to have an opportunity to do the things we are doing and will continue to do. It will all be based on your fighting spirit,” said Toyama.

“It is said that you must remember the past -- but don’t build on the ashes of the past. Take the fighting spirit that was there and use that and project it into the future. We will forever remember what you have done for us and the legacy that you’ve left us.”