In the summer of 2011, on a trip to Hawai'i to visit with partners doing great things for the military and veteran community, I had the opportunity to meet with Senator Daniel Inouye's staff. They let me take a tour of his office and I stood in awe. Here is a man of Japanese descent, who after the bombings at Pearl Harbor, the internment of Japanese citizens on the mainland United States, and a ban on the enlistment of Japanese, enlisted as soon as the ban was lifted.
In World War II, his acts of bravery and courage are hard to rival. At one point, his right hand was shot off while preparing a grenade to throw into a German bunker. He had the presence of mind to take the grenade from his now severed hand, put it into his off hand, and still make a successful delivery of the ordnance to target, eliminating the German threat. It was not until 2000 that he was finally awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Senator Inouye's story of service, however, is hardly unique. We know of the many Americans who served bravely and honorably in WW2, but how many served so honorably while their families were wrongfully interned back home, simply for being of Japanese descent?
It is important to remember, that while a grievous act of war leading to the death of many American service members and our nation as a whole, was committed on this day in 1941, our Nation acted in part with equal cowardice towards the treatment of its own citizens, excluding all Japanese Americans from the West Coast and creating internment camps for those who perhaps couldn't get away fast enough.
In 1988, President Regan signed the legislation officially apologizing to Japanese-Americans, all Americans, for what was described as "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." So, as we rightly honor the memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, let us also honor the memories of those who were excluded from the American political process, who were interned for no reason beyond war hysteria and racism, and for their sons and daughters who fought, like Sen. Inouye, so bravely and honorably for their country, our country, anyway.