Editor’s note: This story ran in our recent Congressional Gold Medal of Honor issue, which recognizes the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. Due to popular demand, we will be featuring several articles from that commemorative edition of the Herald online.
LT. GEN. FRANCIS WIERCINSKI: “THANK YOU, NISEI VETERANS”
Those Who Survived Helped Secure Freedom For All, Says U.S. Army Pacific Top General
In the peaceful setting of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, delivered a stirring speech to veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Serve and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. The occasion was the sixth annual Joint Memorial Service, sponsored by the Oahu AJA Veterans Council and hosted this year by the 442nd Veterans Club.
Lt. Gen. Wiercinski assumed command of the U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter in March of this year. In that capacity, he leads over 62,000 active duty and reserve soldiers, including 6,700 who are currently deployed overseas. Wiercinski served as commanding general for the U.S. Army-Japan and “I” Corps Forward at Camp Zama from 2008-2010. He also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the numerous decorations he has received are the Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star with “V” and the Order of the Rising Sun – Gold and Silver Star from the government of Japan.
The Herald is pleased to share Lt. Gen. Wiercinski’s message with you.
Aloha, and good morning to all of our distinguished guests . . . . and most especially to all of our fellow veterans, your families and your friends here both physically and in spirit . . . .”
“It’s always humbling and a distinct honor to address any gathering of our greatest generation. But this occasion, it’s even more special, as today we set aside a day to recognize some of our greatest heroes in our history — the veterans of Americans of Japanese ancestry. I cannot even begin to hope to add to the volumes already written of Japanese American valor at places like Salerno (Italy), Cassino (Italy), Anzio (Italy), Foret Dominial du Champ (France) — better known to most of us as the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” But I do hope to capture some of that essence because that’s what resonates for our newest generation — those who are still defending us on battlefields in foreign lands, far away in places like Baghdad (Iraq), Mosul (Iraq), Kandahar (Afghanistan), Mazar-e Sharif (Afghanistan).
Valor is a universal, unchanging language that is passed between soldiers. It’s very difficult to explain. It’s very difficult to define. But as a soldier, as many of you who have been deployed in harm’s way and served in the company of heroes, you know it when you see it.
My father-in-law, Sgt. William A. Mussari (of the 85th Infantry Division who served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy with the 100th/442nd), served in Italy. He was fond of talking about the members of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. When they were on his side, he knew he had seen valor.
Although the Japanese American soldiers of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East fought vastly different battles in extremely diverse environments, they were highlighted by a common thread: They were far from home and family and they were there to serve their nation. The personal courage and commitment of every generation of Japanese American soldier — it bridges the divide; it links each man and woman together in this community, a community of sacrifice and of service. The 100th Battalion veteran of Italy may not have served in Iraq, but he immediately has an unseen bond and uniquely appreciates the sacrifices of his fellow 100th Battalion veterans today.
Those that have followed 60 years later in their footsteps — the modern veteran and all of us still serving in uniform today — owe a vast debt of gratitude to you who have set the standard high long before us. You served our nation so valiantly in its darkest hour and while under intense pressure and strain back here at home. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause for these magnificent veterans.
As I sat down and started to think about what I would say to a gathering like this, a couple of things come to mind. Today is the 68th anniversary of the first Japanese American soldier’s death in World War II. I was struck by that fact this very morning, because as any visitor to Fort Shafter knows, one of the first things you see when you come out of the guard shack and you go down and up that long hill is a huge sign commemorating our stadium — the Joe Takata Field. I think that’s an important analogy here today. We may not realize it, but so much of our everyday lives here in Hawai‘i, and nationally, are touched by your accomplishments, both on and off the field of battle. Although we come here to remember the fallen, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the living — those who survived this war — did just as much after it to secure freedom as those who perished defending it.
The fruits of freedom enjoyed today by all Americans here at home were, in great part, bought and paid for by your time in uniform. As much as anyone, the service and sacrifice of the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion and the American Japanese members of the Military Intelligence Service paved the way for President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order integrating the United States military and ultimately led to the freedom and equality for all Americans. It’s no exaggeration to say that those of you here today saved our nation, not once, but twice.
After the war, AJA veterans of the greatest generation went on to serve as senators, government leaders, local officials, businessmen, educators, advocates and authors, building the modern United States. Most importantly, they became fathers, raising families imbued with the twin values of service and sacrifice. Your legacies — your children — are among your greatest feats.
I’d like to take the opportunity to say a few words to the often-overlooked pillars of your success — your families. As you battled tyranny in far off places, wives, girlfriends, children anxiously awaited news of your well-being. In an age before instant communication — the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones — all those waited back here, torturously, for word of your well-being. And, like today, relief only truly arrived when you came home. On behalf of a truly thankful nation and a grateful nation, thank you to all the families for your support from the home front; and even more importantly, thank you for all of your love and support since those days. Our veterans’ success and the modern world they created could not have happened without you.
A Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring Japanese American troops for their bravery in World War II will be held on Nov. 2 this year in Washington, D.C. As he watched President Obama sign the bill of authorization in the Oval Office, [U.S.] Senator Inouye, Medal of Honor recipient, severely wounded combat veteran and another of the many heroes of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, he noted that this gold medal will be shared with the families, loved ones and our friends. Just last week I had the honor to sit with Senator Inouye in the Capitol of his Washington, D.C., office. You can’t help but be drawn to the medal of honor pin that he wears very proudly on his coat jacket every day. And I can’t help but realize that he wears that also to remind us all of the great sacrifice borne of 13,000 Nisei soldiers and their families. In his words, “We knew that the recognition we were receiving was the result of lost lives and bloodshed. We remembered our brothers who did not come home from the war. I am grateful to this nation for remembering us.”
I’d like to close by saying that each of you gathered here today, either physically or in spirit, provide an example — an inspiration, an inspiration to those of us who have chosen to voluntarily, also at war, wear this uniform and take up your work of defending liberty, of defending our home. It’s impossible not to be humbled reading the citations of 21 Medal of Honor winners from the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It’s also humbling to talk to each and every one of you — a decorated living veteran of an AJA unit. I can personally attest that the soldier serving today in the Pacific, the Hawai‘i Army National Guard and Reserves and especially the 9th Mission Support Command in our unit — we value your interest, your support and all that you do for our armed forces.
May you continue to live in peace, freedom and security that you fought to maintain and may you live in happiness and honor all the days ahead. You have certainly earned it, and the greatest gift that you can ever receive is not a medal or a citation — it is the freedom that you provide, the freedom that you gave your sons and daughters, and as an American son who grew up free, thank you, Nisei veterans.
Thank you allowing my wife Jeannine and I to be a part of this this morning — one team, Army strong, Go for Broke.