SEATTLE — Members of Task Force Bayonet and Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces gathered together for the Fifth annual Nisei Luncheon Sunday in Seattle to celebrate the Japan-U.S. alliance and to honor Nisei veterans.
“It’s pronounced NEE-SEY,” said Dale Watanabe, executive director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington. “It means second generation in Japanese.”
During World War II, many Japanese-American Soldiers, or Niseis, had to prove their loyalty to the United States by fighting against the Axis powers abroad, even though their families back home were confined in internment camps and faced racial prejudice, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
One long-time supporter of the luncheon and advocate of telling the Nisei story in attendance was Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos.
“As an elected official of Japanese-American ancestry, I am deeply aware that I could not serve in this capacity, if not for the incredible sacrifices and service of the Nisei veterans and other Japanese-American warriors who defended our Constitution with their lives,” Santos said. “I attend this event to acknowledge this fact.”
The Japan-America Society of the state of Washington, in cooperation with the Nisei Veterans Committee, Sasakawa USA, and the Japan U.S. Military Program have hosted this event between Task Force Bayonet and their guests from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force for the past five years during Exercise Rising Thunder.
Exercise Rising Thunder is an annual, bilateral exercise hosted by Task Force Bayonet at the Yakima Training Center designed to help build on the strong military alliance the two countries have enjoyed for more than 71 years.
Major General Willard Burleson, 7th Infantry Division commanding general, was one of four speakers for the luncheon this year.
“It is always incredibly humbling to join veterans at events like this,” Burleson said. “Events like these help us, who are currently serving, understand the importance of the sacrifice of those who came before us.”
This year’s exercise runs from Sept. 5 to 22 and is being facilitated by the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
“This was an outstanding event,” said Lt. Col. Chris Nunn, 2-3 Inf. battalion commander. “This event, along with our participation in Exercise Rising Thunder, allows us to remember the contributions of the Nisei veterans and helps my Soldiers gain a better understanding of our Japanese counterparts.
Each year during the luncheon, veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed entirely of American Soldiers of Japanese ancestry, who fought in World War II, are honored.
Although the number of World War II era Nisei veterans are dwindling, some veterans still make it their “business” to attend the annual luncheon, like 92 year-old, Tosh Tokunaga. He has been a member of the Nisei Veterans Committee since it started in 1946.
Tokunaga’ unit, the 442nd RCT, is recognized to be the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. In less than two years of combat, the unit earned more than 18,000 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor.
Ironically, some of the men of the unit were among the first Allied troops to participate in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, while their own families, were still imprisoned in internment camps in the U.S.
Tokunaga, who was a corporal during his time in service, said he transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division when the racial restrictions were lifted and Japanese-Americans were allowed to become paratroopers.
“I am very proud to have served (my country),” Tokunaga said.