Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program: 70th Anniversary of the Signing of Executive Order 9066

By:  Eric Shinseki
Date: Feb. 18, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program Annual Day of Remembrance 70th Anniversary of the Signing of Executive Order 9066 February 18, 2012

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm honored to be here. Konrad [Dr. Konrad Ng, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program], thank you for that kind introduction and for inviting me here today. It's good to see you again. Let me also acknowledge:

* Dr. Marc Pachter [Interim Director, Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History];

* Christine Sato-Yamazaki, Chair of the National Veterans Network. Christine, thanks for your diligence in helping to commemorate a group of extraordinary American Soldiers;

* Gerald Yamada and Grant Ichikawa, of the Japanese Americans Veterans' Association;

* Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I can't think of a more fitting place to hold this day of remembrance than the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. I say that in the wake of a remarkable ceremony that occurred on 2 November 2011, a uniquely American celebration of patriotism, loyalty, courage, honor, dedication, and sacrifice. It was a ceremony that celebrated one of the great chapters in the epic story of our Nation's history. That chapter of our story--Americans of Japanese ancestry--touched so many lives in important ways, including my own.

As best I can tell, my parents were married for 62 years, and as best I can recall, their wedding was in December. They never celebrated their wedding anniversary--until my brother and sister and I, and our families, threw them a golden celebration on what we thought was their 50th wedding anniversary.

You see, they were married on either 6 or 7 December and, as we learned bits and pieces over time, had spent one 6 December celebrating their anniversary, partying all night with best friends at Anahola Beach on my home island of Kaua'i. Early on the morning of 7 December 1941, they were headed home when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Horrified and superstitious, they never celebrated another wedding anniversary for the rest of their lives, except for their golden, at the insistence of their children.

An ancient Chinese proverb reminds: "I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." Three simple declarations: "I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand."

The attack on Pearl Harbor engendered fear, paranoia, suspicion, anger, and injustice. The world was in danger, to be sure, and the lives of freedom-loving people everywhere were suspended in time--including Americans of Japanese Ancestry in this country.

In all my years in the military, I can find no better, no more compelling, and no more inspiring story of what it means to be an American than the stories and battle histories of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. I don't think the military will ever form units like them again, so their performance in battle is likely never to be repeated--certainly, never to be outdone. These were not just good units, nor merely unique ones because of their ethnic homogeneity. They were premiere warfighting units ranking among the very best in U.S. military history. The legacy of those who served in those units is a tradition of patriotism, loyalty, courage, honor, dedication and sacrifice that's as old as the American Revolution. Theirs is an American story.

Capturing and preserving as many details of this American story is an important and noble mission. When my grandchildren and their children no longer have Japanese surnames and look less and less like me, I want them to know, to remember, and to understand that their histories include choices made by brave men and women who left what little security they had to come to this great, new country, where they were permitted to have hopes and dreams, and who came to believe that with dignity, hard work, and respect for others, they could achieve anything. Those were the lessons they imparted to me.

And as part of their history, I want my grandchildren to know that, at a point in its American journey, this community of Americans of Japanese Ancestry came under suspicion for circumstances not of their doing, and that a large number of them were forced from their homes and businesses to relocate to tar paper and wood prisons in some of the most remote and bleak locations in our country.

I want them to understand that these American citizens were strong enough to endure such injustice with dignity, awaiting a day when our country would acknowledge its mistakes--which it has. Only a great Nation can do this, and ours has, from the highest office in the land. Rather than rebelling, these Americans, who loved this Nation as much as anyone else, complied with those orders. Despite deep disbelief, disappointment, and anger, they sent their sons to help save our Nation in time of war.

I want my grandchildren to understand that some of the boys who went to war with these units volunteered from the very camps where they had been imprisoned. Doing so, they helped remove all doubt about the loyalty and citizenship of their families and friends. I want my grandchildren, and their children, not just to hear about these men. I want them to be able to go someplace to see, to touch, and to understand that the boys who went to war in the 1940's not only accomplished their purpose, but in doing so, served with such distinction that 21 them were awarded the Medal of Honor, our Nation's highest decoration for heroism--eight of them from a single battalion, the 100th Infantry. No other regiment in U.S. Army history has this distinction for size and length of service. I want them to be able to see as many of those medals as is possible in one location, placed in context with the rest of each unit's battle history, so they can understand that these 21 were not the only heroes on those battlefields on those days. We must seek to tell the entire story accurately.

And I want them to understand that, on a chilly day in November 2011, the Congress of this great Nation presented to each member of the 100th Infantry Battalion, each member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and each member of the Military Intelligence Service, living or deceased, the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the people of the United States of America.

Unless someone takes up this education mission, I'm not sure where our great grandchildren will go to see, to touch, and to understand this important legacy they will have inherited. These are our stories and our legacy to preserve--stories about our fathers and grandfathers, our brothers, our uncles and cousins, and our friends. They are ours. The legacy they bequeathed is our legacy to preserve, to honor, and to perpetuate. Their actions changed the way we live our lives. I, for one, would never have had the opportunity to serve as the Chief of my Army had they not purchased back for me my right to compete without any question of loyalty or citizenship.

Seventy years ago tomorrow, Executive Order 9066 was issued. With that order, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry--men, women, and children, more than 60 percent of them American citizens--were sent to "war relocation camps" in desolate and remote locations such as Tule Lake, California; Gila River, Arizona; Hart Mountain, Wyoming; and Jerome, Arkansas. Forced from their homes and businesses, uprooted from their communities, many were declared "enemy aliens" and incarcerated in shacks, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by American Soldiers. But those shameful facts are not the only important part of this chapter of our history.

Here's what's also important. The quiet men of these units, small in stature, performed the most unbelievable acts of bravery. The courage they displayed is simply staggering. We can only guess at their capacity to absorb the punishment of combat and the stings of battle by surveying the awards bestowed upon "One-Puka-Puka!" and "Go for Broke!" Members of these units received more than 18,000 individual awards from September 1943 to September 1945, including, as mentioned before, 21 Medals of Honor, but also:

* 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 nearly 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.

Members of the Military Intelligence Service were equally valorous. The highly classified nature of their wartime missions masked its existence throughout the war and for decades thereafter. To this day, the MIS has never been fully recognized for its accomplishments:

* 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;

* You name the campaign, you name the landing, you name the battle--the MIS was there;

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

As heroically as the men of all these units fought in World War II, what they did following the war is equally important:

* They came home to help put America on the road to greatness, providing leadership in government, in business, in education, and in so many others ways that they made their marks.

* They brought back a tremendous sense of service, of sacrifice, and of having served something bigger than themselves.

* They were tolerant of views and politics different from their own--born of the intolerance they suffered in internment camps in this country and of what they saw in concentration camps in other parts of the world, which they helped liberate--places like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau.

* And they understood the ultimate responsibilities of citizenship, of fair play, and respect for the dignity of our flag and for all who pledged allegiance to it.

In May 1998, when I served as Commander of U.S. Army Forces, Europe, I attended Memorial Day services in Margraten, the Netherlands, where 8,301 Americans lie buried. To this day, U.S. General Officers attend Memorial Day services at one of the American cemeteries in Europe, in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Luxembourg. What is unique about this cemetery is that each grave has been adopted by a family from Margraten and the surrounding communities.

Throughout the year, each family visits and cares for its American grave, individually. But on Memorial Day, most all of them show up in their Sunday finest to visit their American and to hear the American general deliver the traditional Memorial Day address. If you had accompanied me, you would have seen three generations of Margrateners paying homage to their Americans--grandparents, adult children, and now grandchildren. And it fell to the youngest to "do" the small rites of respect and devotion--washing of headstones, placement of flowers, tidying up around the graves, tasks passed from generation to generation over the years since World War II.

Here's what's also important to remember about the people of Margraten. None of them ever met the American they adopted. Most only know a name. Others may have been able to ferret out a few more facts over the years, but they all embrace their Americans because of what they and millions of others did more than seven decades ago to change the way Margrateners live today.

I was fortunate enough to return to Margraten in May 2010, as President Obama's representative, leading a U.S. delegation to Europe to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The scenes were replayed exactly as they had been 12 years earlier, except that another generation of young Margrateners was doing the "doing." As a community, they get it. They understand this communal act of devotion.

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand."

How do we want to remember the boys who went to war for us? Where do we want our grandchildren to go to remember them? How do we want the story told, and how do we convey to them that their past histories and future opportunities were made possible by brave ancestors who "paid it forward," believing that with dignity, hard work, sacrifice, and respect for others, all things are possible? How do we ensure future generations are strong enough to endure hardship and challenge with dignity, perseverance, and sacrifice?

It's been an honor to join you this afternoon. God bless our young men and women in uniform, God bless our Veterans, and God bless America.

Thank you.

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