For the past couple of weeks, I have been hanging out with a handful of veterans from the 100th Battalion talking story about their service in World War II and their life in present times. When I talk with them, I soon forget that they are over fifty years older than me. They are all in their golden years, the youngest is eighty-two. They recall their war experiences as if it happened yesterday. It is as if they are forever young. Their spirit is amazingly strong.
To many of them, death was expected. Many left for war without getting the opportunity from their own government to say goodbye to their loved ones. Many wonder why they survived when so many of their friends died so young never getting the opportunity to experience life as an adult. One veteran explained, “when you go to war, you prepare to die.” That is why they are the most decorated military unit of its size and time in service in United States history. He stated, “other American soldiers and officers deserted their posts, hinting to me that those guys wanted live. The nisei soldiers were willing to die for their comrades. So many of them were wounded, but returned to battle because they wanted to be with the boys. The casualty rate was 300%, thus if you average it out, each nisei soldier should have been wounded at least three times. They were sent to the most dangerous missions as sacrificial lambs. Besides, other military units could not succeed so they sent the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yet, after penetrating enemy lines, they were ordered to not liberate cities such as Paris because their government did not not want minority Americans to be recognized for these feats in history.
The common ground among them is that they all felt they had to prove that they were loyal and should be treated equally like any American. They faced racism in their own country, but yet they fought bravely and saw many of their young friends die for a country that treated them so terribly. They all felt their sacrifice would hopefully change things, if not for them, but for future generations.
When they came back after the war, people and the government still treated them badly. When they couldn't get jobs, they created their own businesses. When they couldn't get loans, they created their own banks. The law firms didn't hire them, thus, the samurai law firms were born. Since the laws were discriminatory, they got involved in politics and changed the laws.
One veteran gave me advice on how he became a multi-millionaire by the time he was forty years old. Others told me how they encouraged their children to get their education and do their best. They implied that they paved the way, so make the most of the new opportunities available. Another veteran told me,” Our time is done…it is too late. There are still discrimination and obstacles so it is up to your generation (I am a fourth generation American) to break the barriers.” Every veteran has so many stories, so we will never hear all of them. The amount of sacrifice and death are among the stories I will tell later.
All I can say is that I am emotionally moved by these great heroes. It is a dream come true for me to become friends with a number of them. They have inspired me even more to do my best to make our world better. A number of them have told me in different ways how they dislike war. Shikata ga nai. It can't be helped. They did what they had to do given the circumstances.
I have believed for a number of years, in order to appreciate life, you must be aware of death. If you feel you are close to death at all times, you will do extraordinary things. The 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team did extraordinary things.