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Hawai'i Salute to the Congressional Gold Medal Veterans Luncheon

Location: Honolulu, HI

General Dave Bramlett, thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you, as well, for your own distinguished service to our Nation and for your long friendship over many years now.

Let me also acknowledge:

* Representative Faleomavaega;

* Governor Abercrombie, former Governor Lingle, and Mayor Carlisle;

* Generals Wiercinski, Selva, and Wong;

* From our distinguished retired community--Admiral Tom Fargo, Generals Joe Peterson, Hank Stackpole, and Bob Lee;

* Other flag and general officers;

* Consul General Kamo;

* Ron Nakano, President of the "Go For Broke" Association, and Christine Sato-Yamazaki, granddaughter of 442nd Veteran Dave Kawagoye and chair of the National Veterans Network. Both have been instrumental in orchestrating these commemoration events, Ron for today's events here in Hawai'i, and Christine for putting together last month's honors ceremony in Washington D.C. We are all deeply indebted to both of you. Thank you.

* Members of the 1399th Engineers, who served so selflessly during World War II;

* Finally, and most importantly, our honorees--the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service; we are honored to share today's celebration with you.

* So many other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Aloha, everyone. It's great to be back in Hawai'i, and I am honored to be participating in this salute to a very special group of American patriots to whom we all owe so much. Distinguished in battle, unique in American history, and yet humble nearly to a fault; they are "the boys" of "One Puka Puka," "Go For Broke", and the MIS.

I was privileged to be present last month at the special awards ceremony bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal on every member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, every member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and every member of the Military Intelligence Service, living and deceased. And what a celebration it was, as I said then, because this recognition is such a rare honor, because our honorees are such remarkable American patriots, because it is so well deserved, and because it finally puts things right. That day, our honorees joined the ranks of other recipients of this highest award that Congress can bestow on behalf of the American people: George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Harry Truman, as well as other special units like the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, all distinguished recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal.

Yet, as special as that event in Washington, D.C. was, it's entirely fitting that we celebrate the award of the Congressional Gold Medal today, here in Honolulu. Many of the men, who fought in those storied units grew up here in Hawai'i. Early in 1942, the Soldiers of the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments of the Hawai'i National Guard merged into the "Hawai'i Provisional Battalion," which then deployed to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where it was later re-designated the 100th Infantry Battalion on 15 June, 1942.

Furthermore, a majority of the original members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team came from Hawai'i. In January 1943, the War Department sought 1,500 volunteers from the territory of Hawai'i for the "Go For Broke." Despite the treatment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry following Pearl Harbor, 10,000 local Niseis stepped forward. Of these volunteers, approximately 3,000 were accepted for service in the first wave of the 442nd.

And so it was from here, Hawai'i, that the long journey began for so many Nisei that culminated in the award of the Congressional Gold Medal last month, a journey that began on that day of infamy at Pearl Harbor. Many of you here today were touched by the events of 7 December, 1941. Individuals, families, and communities were called upon to make sacrifices. For some, that sacrifice continues to this day.

My oldest childhood friend, Steve Sato, who sits in this audience today, lost his dad, Sergeant Shukichi Sato, at the Volturno River in November 1943, as I recently learned from watching a video produced by Los Angeles Channel 7 News Anchor, David Ono. As I was growing up, Steve was always my friend without a dad; none of us kids really thought much about why, because his mom, Kaoru, more than made up for the absence. Understanding more fully, today, all that she sacrificed for Steve, only magnifies my admiration for her.

Photos of his dad, and of his dad and mom together, and the wartime letters they shared, are all that Steve has today to fill in the gaps about the father he never met and the mother who never let him feel deprived. But their sacrifice is ongoing.

No matter where you stood on 7 December 1941, so many lives were forever changed--education plans put on hold, some marriages deferred, others moved up to accommodate the war's demands. All of our communities sacrificed.

But the community most directly affected was the AJA community, Americans of Japanese Ancestry. Early fear and paranoia led to distrust and suspicion and turned, ultimately, to a tide of discrimination and hatred against which the AJA community could do little to defend itself.

In response to such discrimination, AJAs did about the only thing they could do. They demanded the right to bear arms and the privilege of defending their country during war, like all other American citizens. Out of such patriotism came the legendary units we honor today: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442 Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service.

So began the chapter in this Nation's history which brings us together today, 70 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And what a chapter in American military history they wrote, these quiet, humble men--small in stature, but so tough and fierce in battle.

Their accomplishments are the stuff of legend. Through their actions, their demand to serve in war and their magnificence in battle, any questions about Soldierly virtue or individual toughness or loyalty to this country were categorically put to rest, beyond all doubt, for them and for the rest of us.

I grew up listening to stories about these units from my uncles and their friends, who had served in them. They never talked about themselves, only about others--which is why sometimes even family members were not aware that their fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers, and cousins were men who had distinguished themselves in battle, heroes in the finest sense of the word.

They forged, amongst themselves, unshakable bonds of trust, and those bonds did not encourage self- promotion or criticism of others; no one was perfect, but individual imperfections could not override their collective greatness. The difficulties of war, their sense of a higher calling, and the terrible losses they suffered spawned a legacy of selfless service to their country, to their communities, and, most importantly, to one another.

We are still awed at their ability and their willingness to absorb the rigors of combat and the stings of battle by surveying the awards bestowed upon "One-Puka-Puka!" And "Go For Broke!"--more than 18,000 individual awards from September 1943 to September 1945, including:

* 21 Medals of Honor;

* 52 Distinguished Service Crosses;

* 560 Silver Stars, and over 4,000 Bronze Stars;

* A staggering 9,486 Purple Hearts for combat wounds;

* And an unprecedented seven Presidential Unit Citations.

No other regiment, in 237 years of U.S. Army history, has amassed an equivalent battle record, nor is it likely that any other regiment will match this performance, ever.

The highly classified nature of the MIS's missions masked the valor, determination, and accomplishments of its Soldiers. For all intents and purposes, the MIS--classified units-- did not exist until more than two decades after World War II, when their existence was declassified. To this day, they have never been fully recognized for such operational accomplishments as:

* Linguist support leading to the aerial ambush of Admiral Yamamoto over the Pacific Ocean;

* Enabling Merrill's Marauders' success in Burma;

* Intelligence preparation of the battlefield for general MacArthur's brilliant island-hopping campaign;

* Contributing to our seizure of the strategic initiative during and after the Battle of Midway;

* And, finally, contributing immensely to the democraticization of post-war Japan, leading to its becoming one of our closest and staunchest allies today.

We now know that the first MIS Nisei class began training before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and after the attack, they shipped out to begin preparing the way for stopping Japan's operational momentum. By the end of the war, the MIS was everywhere present in the Pacific Theater of Operations. General Charles Willoughby, Douglas MacArthur's Intelligence Chief, declared that "the Nisei saved countless allied lives and shortened the war [in the Pacific] by two years."

To each of our honorees, the bonds of trust you forged with your fellow Soldiers in battle are still intact. As you accept our appreciation and accolades today for your service, you represent every member of your distinguished units, even those who are no longer with us. You remind us all about the sacrifices which were made so that the rest of us could live our lives as we have come to enjoy them over 70 years. Those men with whom you shared so much are certainly with us here today. They look on you with great pride, and with you, they share in this honor.

And for all of those reasons, it is so important that we continue to tell your stories so that future generations can understand what it took to provide those, who followed in your footsteps, the comfort and the privilege we enjoy today, and to remind them that those privileges come with responsibilities.

Today's honorees remind me that brave men sacrificed to give me opportunities I might otherwise never have had, choices about how I might live my life, able to choose my life's work, to compete fully without any cloud of suspicion or concern about loyalty, and to enjoy fully the privileges of my citizenship--never to be taken for granted.

To our honorees: As I said last month in Washington, I've waited my entire life for this opportunity to offer all the magnificent warriors of these historic units and their families my deep, personal thanks for your service and your example of how to live my life. And it is so very special to be able to say these things here, in Hawai'i, where, for so many of you, this courageous chapter in our Nation's history began. Except for your service and bloody sacrifice, my life's work would not have followed the path that it did.

So, to you and your family members, we are indebted to you all for giving us lessons about living our lives with purpose and dignity. From my generation to yours, we thank you.

I am proud to be an American Soldier. I am proud that President Obama gave me this opportunity to serve Veterans, and I am honored to have been with you here today.

God bless each and every one of you. God bless the young men and women who serve in uniform today all around the world. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours. Happy holidays, everyone--Aloha.

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