Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Editor’s note: One of the events of last month’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan was a grand tribute to the Nisei soldiers who stepped forward to serve their country in the dark days following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on O‘ahu. The luncheon tribute at the Hawai‘i Convention Center on Dec. 5 was aptly titled, “Fighting Two Wars: Japanese American Veterans Tribute.” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and the highest-ranking Japanese American serving in the U.S. military today, delivered the keynote address at the luncheon. The following is the text of his speech.

Adm. Harris’ text is followed by those of the day’s two other speakers — former Gov. George Ariyoshi, a World War II Military Intelligence Service veteran and America’s first governor of Japanese ancestry, and Hawai‘i’s current governor, David Ige, the Sansei son of a World War II 100th Infantry Battalion veteran.

The banquet’s presenting sponsor was Central Pacific Bank, which was established in 1954 by many of the Nisei veterans who had returned home from the war, determined to build a more equitable society than the one they had left behind. Among the founders were 100th Battalion veterans Sakae Takahashi and Mike Tokunaga; 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran and future U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Military Intelligence Service veteran Elton Sakamoto.

Photo of Adm. Harris and President Barack Obama, on Dec. 27 aboard the USS Arizona Memorial as Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe honored those killed in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor
Adm. Harris (far right) stood beside his commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, on Dec. 27 aboard the USS Arizona Memorial as Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe honored those killed in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor with a flower tribute. Assisting Obama and Abe was Yeoman 2nd Class Michelle Wrobley. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Thank you very much for that introduction, (emcee) Leslie (Wilcox). Before getting to my formal remarks, I want to recognize some folks: Of course, Governor Ige and Governor Ariyoshi — it’s great to share the dais with you both to pay tribute to the Nisei veterans here. Mayor Caldwell and other state and national government leaders; Admiral Fargo; Admiral Fallon; General Bramlett and my classmate Admiral Dan Holloway; fellow flag and general officers; distinguished guests — and most of all, of course, a special welcome to the Nisei veterans and their loved ones who are here with us today. Folks, let’s give them a round of applause.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Nisei warriors literally shaped our military and our nation. They’re all heroes in my book. In fact, they’re heroes in any book. So I’m honored to participate in this tribute to Japanese American World War II veterans.

As I’ve often said, the most important event in my life is World War II, and I wasn’t even born until the mid-1950s. You see, my father and four of his brothers fought in that war — enlisted men in the Navy and in the Army. Their sea stories and foxhole tales formed some of my earliest memories and they shaped the boy I was and the man I became. Through them, I learned of the tremendous sacrifices of “the Greatest Generation.” Those who fought for victory helped achieve nothing less than the survival of the free world. Through them, I was inspired to serve. Everything my father and uncles went through, the Nisei warriors went through and more, because they also had to deal with discrimination, distrust and outright hostility from the very same country they were defending with their very same lives — from our country, yours and mine.

So it’s no exaggeration for me to say that I stand on the shoulders of giants. For me to be a Japanese American four-star admiral in command of all the joint forces across the Indo-Asia-Pacific, well, it’s because of these Nisei trailblazers — the men of the 100th Battalion; the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; the Military Intelligence Service, or MIS; the 522nd; the 232nd; the 1399th and the 300 Nisei women who joined the Women’s Army Corps.

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