Nikkei Veterans Monument

Background information

Marlee Wilcomb, 1985. 4-1/2'(9' with pedestal)h x 1'w x 1'3"d. 333 S. Alameda
Nikkei (Americans of Japanese ancestry) have served in the United States armed forces since the Spanish-American War when several Issei were stationed aboard the United States battleship Maine when it was blown up in Havana, Cuba. During the Punitive Expedition in Mexico in 1916-1917, General John S. Pershing relied on scouts who often were Americans with extensive experience in Mexico. Among the most important were three known as Suzuki, Sato and Dyo. Later, Issei as well as Nisei served in World War I primarily through the Hawaii National Guard. But it was for their valor, courage and patriotism during World War II that Nikkei veterans are best remembered. After Pearl Harbor, thousands of Nisei in the armed forces were quickly discharged because of prejudicial fears that they were not loyal citizens. Ironically, bilingual Nisei were quietly recruited at the same time to join other Nisei secretly being trained as translators for the Military Intelligence Service. By V.J. Day, approximately 6,000 of the 33,000 Nisei who served during the war were assigned to the Pacific Theater, interrogating prisoners, translating captured documents and serving in combat and administrative units. This service has been largely unrecognized because it was cloaked in secrecy and was overshadowed by the distinguished record of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion.

In June, 1942, 1,300 Nisei from Hawaii, training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, were organized into the 100th Infantry Battalion. So impressive was their training, that another unit of Japanese Americans--the 442nd Regimental Combat Team--was activated in February, 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. In mid-1943, the 442nd was augmented by volunteers from Hawaii as well as by Nisei released from concentration camps in the United States. The 100th Infantry Battalion sailed for Europe shortly after, where it participated in the invasion of Italy. Following the 442nd RCT's arrival in Italy in June, 1944, the 100th was attached to the 442nd.

Reconstituted, the 442nd RCT fought in the Arno River area and in 1945 fought in the Vergones Forest where it achieved notoriety for saving the remnant of the Texas "Lost Battalion." While parents of many Nikkei soldiers were still imprisoned in United States concentration camps because of their ancestry, the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd helped liberate the notorious Nazis extermination camp at Dachau, Germany. By the end of World War II, the 442nd was the most decorated combat unit in the military, receiving 18,143 individual decorations, including 9,486 purple hearts, and seven Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations.

Since 1948, Japanese Americans have served with distinction in integrated units of all branches of the armed forces. During the Korean War, 43 Nikkei died in action. Approximately 3,000 Japanese Americans served in Vietnam, of which 117 were killed or missing in action, including two who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

This memorial, commissioned by Taira Investment Corporation with $40,000 in donations from Japanese American businessmen, commemorates and honors all Nikkei who have served in the United States military. The design was conceived by local businessman Karl Oike and patterned after the 442nd Regimental Combat Team's emblem, which was inspired by the raised right arm of the Statue of Liberty. Marlee Wilcomb, the artist, enhanced movement of the flame by increasing its angle. She also applied texture and patina to evoke strength and durability. A concrete pedestal has a commemorative plaque on one side and black panels incised with "Peace" "Hope" and "Life" in English and Japanese, with a phonetic pronunciation in Japanese, on each of the other three sides. Though the casting (done by the lost-wax method) was completed in August 1985, the work was not installed at its present location in front of the main entrance of Yaohan Plaza for over a year. On Veterans Day, November 9, 1986, the memorial was dedicated to "All Americans of Japanese Ancestry Who Served in the United States Armed Forces with Courage and Loyalty."

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 1998.

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