On August 9, 2008, four days before the birth of my son James, I waddled to the “Road to Redress and Reparations” Forum that was presented by the San Jose Japanese American Citizens League, Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, and San Jose City College. The event commemorated the 25th Anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the legislation that officially apologized for interning thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.
As a resident of San Jose’s Japantown, one of the last remaining Japantowns in America, I was already aware of the Japanese American internment. However, after listening to former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and others recount their experiences and watching the film “Redress: the JACL Campaign for Justice,” I found myself feeling sadness and anguish for the 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during our nation’s darkest days.
So when Southwest was asked to support the National Japanese American Memorial Foundations’ 6th Annual Awards Gala to honor the four surviving Japanese American Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients, I unequivocally said YES!
Southwest’s support helped fly the Japanese American seniors from the U.S. Coast Guard and Air Force Academies and two Medal of Honor Recipients, George Sakato and Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, and their families to attend the special event. I have to give a BIG SHOUT OUT and KICK TAILS to our Inflight Crews, Denver (DEN), Albuquerque (ABQ), and Baltimore/Washington (BWI) Employees who recently went above the call of duty to help make the Sakatos and Miyamuras feel honored and LUVed!
Our ABQ Supervisors William Semerjibashian and Laura Nuzum forwarded their photos and comments:
“On April 19 we greeted Mr. Miyamura and his lovely wife at gate A5. We presented both of them with flowers and had the gate decorated for both his outbound and return flights on SWA! As the flight pulled into the gate, an announcement was made and some of the details were given as to who this magnificent man is and what he had done for our country. As he came off the plane, the other Customers in the gate area gave him a standing ovation. It was amazing! You could tell he was a bit shy when it came to all of the attention. He very humbly smiled and walked with his wife through the applauding people. There were a few tears, and after he had gone, many Customers came to us wanting to know more about what he had done and wanted to thank us for announcing that he was on our flight! It was a great day and we just wanted to share a piece of it with you. The photo came out a bit blurry, but I think you can see the happiness and emotion in Mr. Miyamura's face. Thanks for letting us know that he would be traveling with us!”
Coincidentally, on my trip to BWI to attend the Gala, I was booked on the same flight as the Sakatos and Miyamuras, and in typical Southwest fashion, we had to celebrate our special guests onboard with games and trivia questions! It was also heartwarming to see our Customers getting out of their seats to express their appreciation or offer drinks to these two extraordinary men. George and Hershey both risked their lives to defend our country at a time when they were subjects of prejudice and discrimination. I believe their loyalty and unwavering patriotism were the epitome of heroism.
During combat in France in 1944, Private Sakato displayed extraordinary heroism after his unit was pinned down by heavy fire, making a one-man rush that inspired his platoon to mount a counterattack, then taking charge of the squad after its leader was killed. And in 1951, as a machine-gun squad leader during the Korean War, Corporal Miyamura single-handedly brought down 50 enemy soldiers when his company’s position was overrun, suffering severe wounds in hand-to-hand combat while buying time for his men to retreat.
At the Gala, Southwest Captains Rod Harrell, John Fluhart, and Paul Onorato, and I had the privilege of hosting George and his daughter Leslie at our table. According to John, “It was a truly memorable occasion for me and I really appreciated having the opportunity to honor such great American heroes.”
And Cadet Captain Lafferty from West Point shared, “This is by far one of the best experiences I’ve had as being a cadet at West Point. I was deeply honored, humbled, and amazed by the heroism by the sacrifices made by the Japanese Americans I met. Their stories were both inspiring and touching and I hope that someday I can accomplish a fraction of the deeds these men did in service to our nation.”
As the perfect evening was ending and it was time to say goodbye to my travel buddies, I wished George, Leslie, Hershey, his wife Terry, and niece Marisa a safe flight home and assured them that they were in good hands on their return flights. Before I walked away, I felt something cold and heavy placed in my hand. I looked down to see that Hershey had surreptitiously given me an autographed replica medal. When I returned home, I placed Hershey’s medal in my eight month-old son’s pudgy palm and whispered, “This is for you James, and it’s from a true American Hero!”
I was so deeply moved by the stories shared during the Redress and Gala events that I had to share my thoughts for Asian Pacific American Month this May and for Memorial Day at the end of the month.
Thank you to all Asian Pacific American heroes and heroines who came before and sacrificed everything to give us the opportunities we have today.