Hawai‘i’s AJA Community Comes Together to Salute and Thank Retiring Admiral Harry Harris
Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr.
Published with Permission
He was touted as “a hero for our time,” and although the Hawai‘i Nisei veterans and the various Japanese American community organizations that came together to honor Adm. Harry Harris on April 21 are happy for him as he begins the next chapter of his life — as a diplomat — there is no question that he and his wife, Bruni Bradley, will be missed.
Harris, who arrived in Hawai‘i in the fall of 2013 to lead the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, and Bradley, herself a Navy veteran, were the guests of honor at a luncheon banquet attended by approximately 200 people at the Hale Koa Hotel. The son of a Caucasian Navyman and a Japanese woman who met and married in post-World War II Japan, where the future four-star admiral was born, Harris quickly embraced Hawai‘i’s Japanese American community, particularly its World War II Nisei veterans. It was an interesting relationship, especially because the Nisei had served almost exclusively in the Army during the war, as they were barred from serving in the other military branches. But when it came to the World War II AJA veterans, the traditional Army vs. Navy rivalry did not matter to Harris. They were still his heroes.
In May 2015, Harris was elevated to four-star admiral and appointed commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, which encompasses approximately half the earth. Earlier this year, it was reported that Harris would be retiring after a 40-year naval career and would become the U.S. ambassador to Australia. Organizers of the April 21 event even researched his favorite Australian songs, which were played at the luncheon.
Three days later, however, the White House announced that at the urging of incoming U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the president was now appointing Harris U.S. ambassador to South Korea, a post that had remained vacant since Donald Trump took office in January 2017. News reports said Pompeo felt that Harris’ knowledge and expertise in the geopolitics of the region and his vast military experience would be especially valuable in the anticipated talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Adm. Harris was open to the change of assignment and is now preparing for his Senate confirmation hearings.
The idea of honoring Harris began with the MIS Veterans Club of Hawaii, specifically member Shinye Gima, who felt that Hawai‘i’s AJA veterans should not let Harris leave the state without expressing their gratitude for the unwavering support he had always given them and for his participation in their many activities during his tenure in Hawai‘i, in spite of his own busy schedule. The MIS board wholeheartedly supported the idea and began organizing the aloha banquet for Harris and Bradley — and then opened it up to their fellow AJA veterans organizations: the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion and local Japanese American community groups.
On that April 21 day, Adm. Harris said he was “deeply honored” to be recognized as “a hero for our time” and for the privilege of sharing the day “with so many tremendous American patriots.”
“This is a truly humbling day,” he said, and went on to recognize by name several Hawai‘i’s leaders who were present, among them, Gov. David Ige, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, former Gov. George Ari-
yoshi and Consul General of Japan Koichi Ito, as well as members of the consular corps in Hawai‘i, retired military leaders and Japanese community organizations.
Before getting into the body of his speech, he asked the audience to join him in a moment of silence in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who passed away last month. Harris called Akaka “a true hero for all of us.”
We pick up Adm. Harris’ comments from there. — Karleen Chinen
While these events focus on one person, the military member, the story is not really about an individual: It’s about family; about friends; and about colleagues, past and present.
A successful career in the military is not possible without the influence of family growing up; support of family while you’re deployed or in combat; and the support of friends, shipmates and battle buddies throughout. My own career, like many of yours, is shaped by deep friendships I formed in hard places . . . friendships that have supported me when I most needed it.
My career also reflects the special association of the Japanese American community in general, from which I have drawn much of my strength. So today, I’d like to discuss the importance of our Nisei community — both as a citizen and as a government executive of our great nation. Like you, I believe that service to our country — whether you wear a uniform or a suit — is a noble cause.
I learned the value of duty and obligation from my parents: my father, a Southerner from Tennessee who served in the Navy during World War II and in Japan and Korea after the war . . . and my mother, who was born in Japan and survived the war’s devastation. They met during the Occupation of Japan and were married in the mid-1950s. While my father inspired me to serve, it was my mother who taught me the true meaning of service. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and the twin concepts of giri and gimu — obligation and duty. These concepts have served me well throughout my career, almost half of which has been here in the Pacific. Both of them are gone now, but I can still hear the stories they told me of sacrifice and courage . . . stories such as the heroic deeds of Japanese American Nisei soldiers who fought so valiantly during World War II.
The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, the 522nd, the 232nd, 1399th and the 300 Nisei women who joined the Women’s Army Corps . . . theirs is a legacy of service that has a special resonance for me. So it’s no exaggeration to say that I join Generals [Eric] Shinseki and [Paul] Nakasone, standing on the shoulders of giants. For me to be where I am today — a Japanese American four-star admiral in command of all U.S. joint military forces across half the earth — well, it’s because of these Nisei trailblazers. They inspired me when I was growing up; they inspired me after I joined the Navy; and they continue to inspire me today.
While Japanese Americans no longer face the widespread oppression of previous years, it’s important that we uphold our duty and obligation to push for equality in both the civilian and military sectors. As public stewards, we must live up to the highest standards, and I charge all of you to take up the banner of vigilance and stamp out inequality in all its forms. A former naval officer — and President of the United States — John F. Kennedy, once said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” That’s powerful stuff. I believe this is exactly what makes our military the greatest in the world. It’s what makes us stronger — our melting pot of America.
Let me be candid here. Our country hasn’t always dealt immigrants and minorities a fair shake. Even so, the many cultures resident in the American experience share a common underpinning of honor, pride and perseverance that has added immeasurably to our strength as a nation. So, I’m thrilled to be standing before you, as a Japanese American, celebrating our heritage in this new age, where diversity is embraced by a larger percentage of our society than ever before. We’re not where we need to be, yet — we must continue to talk to it and work at it — but I believe we’re on the right track.
We’re fortunate to live in a country and work for a government that values diversity. As members of that government, we must honor the work of those who’ve gone before us. Those heroes literally fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. We preserve their legacy by staying resolute and promoting equality, not just for Japanese Americans, but for all Americans. As Senator Inouye once said: “Americanism is not a matter of skin or color.”
As stewards of the public trust, it isn’t just our responsibility to promote a world that honors diversity by respecting values of fairness and equality . . . but it’s also our duty to teach future generations about those who have fought and won the battles for social justice. America’s Nisei warriors fought for nothing less than the survival of the free world. Their stories of patriotism and courage in the face of adversity must continue to be told. These warriors triumphed over ignorance, oppression and injustice to make indelible contributions, not only to our military history, but even more importantly, to our American history. They are an integral part of our nation’s story. Their accomplishments have shaped our world and impacted our lives. As President Truman said about our Nisei veterans in 1946: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win, to make this great Republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time.”
Indeed, our Nisei warriors represent the diversity and character of our great nation. They’re leaders and volunteers, inside and outside of the service. They’re role models for our citizens. And they exemplify the highest standards of service: at home and abroad, at seas and ashore, in combat and in times of peace. There can be no doubt that America’s Nisei veterans have given much to ensure that our great nation stays free. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who served — to all those who were injured . . . and especially to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll conclude by saying that the banner of freedom advances in our world only when brave men and women take it up. That’s what the Nisei veterans did, leaving us a lasting legacy of strength, freedom and prosperity. For those of us who stand the watch today, we’ll continue to follow in your wake. We won’t let you down. So on behalf of the nearly 400,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Department of Defense civilians who comprise U.S. Pacific Command, I humbly accept this great honor. May God bless those veterans and the brave men and women of our armed forces: each and every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen and DoD (Department of Defense) civilians — past and present — who have stepped forward to defend our nation. May God bless each of you, this beautiful state of Hawai‘i and this land of liberty we call America. Thank you very much.