What does Veterans Day mean to you? For some Americans, it’s a work holiday, and for others, it means a trip to the church or the cemetery to pay respect to relatives. However for the vast majority, I hope this is a special day to reflect back on all the contributions veterans have made and the sacrifices many overcame to be recognized and respected.
For my family, this day is also a remembrance of my grandpa who died last year. He served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. My grandpa and his fellow comrades fought not only for their country, but also for the respect and dignity of their families and fellow Asian-Americans facing discrimination at a time when many Japanese were seen as “enemy aliens.”
As Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii during World War II, my grandparents were forced to choose between the country of their parent’s birth (their parents were Japanese citizens living in Hawaii) and the country they were born in and citizens of, the U.S.
“It’s kind of hard when you think about it now,” said my great uncle who was 12 at the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing. “We were against them [Japan], but we were in a way the same because we were Japanese.”
Although my grandpa, who was 23 at the time, was exempt from the draft because he was the eldest son in a fatherless family, he volunteered for the army. He was placed in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a group of Japanese-American men who became the most decorated unit in American military history for their size and time in combat, earning more than 18,000 individual decorations, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
I remember my grandpa telling me he volunteered because he wanted a better job and money to support his family. His father died when he was a teenager, so as the eldest son, he took on the role as the man of the house, helping his mother support his five younger siblings. He also volunteered because he wanted to show his country that Japanese-Americans were loyal to the U.S.
In January 2012, my grandpa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress, after President Obama signed a 2010 bill that collectively granted the Medal to the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
What strikes me is how my grandpa and other Japanese-American men could respond to a terrorist attack on their country by going off to war and then coming back to silently endure the traumas they faced. In Japanese, it is called “ganbatte.”
The men of the 442nd and 100th Battalion also lived and fought by their motto “Go for Broke,” which means something along the lines of giving it your all for a big win and risking everything to succeed.
“It meant ‘the hell with it’ whether you make it or die,” my great-uncle said. “That’s when you are facing the enemy. Give it all you got.”