Famous Quotations

Former President Harry S. Truman

At the Presidential Unit Citation Ceremony For the Japanese American “Nisei” 100th/442nd RCT, July 15, 1946

You are to be congratulated on what you have done for this great country of ours. I think it was my predecessor who said that Americanism is not a matter of race or creed, it is a matter of the heart.

You fought for the free nations of the world along with the rest of us. I congratulate you on that, and I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate the privilege of being able to show you just how much the United States of America thinks of what you have done.

You are now on your way home. 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.

Former President Ronald Reagan

At the Signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, August 10, 1988

Yes, the Nation was then at war, struggling for its survival and it’s not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese Americans was just that: a mistake. For throughout the war, Japanese Americans in the tens of thousands remained utterly loyal to the United States. Indeed, scores of Japanese Americans volunteered for our Armed Forces, many stepping forward in the internment camps themselves. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up entirely of Japanese Americans, served with immense distinction to defend this nation, their nation. Yet back at home, the soldier’s families were being denied the very freedom for which so many of the soldiers themselves were laying down their lives….

Motion picture actress Louise Allbritton, a Texas girl, told how a Texas battalion had been saved by the 442nd. Other show business personalities paid tribute–Robert Young, Will Rogers, Jr. And one young actor said: ”Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.” The name of that young actor–I hope I pronounce this right–was Ronald Reagan. And, yes, the ideal of liberty and justice for all–that is still the American way.

Former President William J. Clinton

At the Medal of Honor Ceremony, July 15, 2000

When young Japanese American men volunteered enthusiastically, some Americans were puzzled. But those who volunteered knew why. Their own country had dared to question their patriotism and they would not rest until they had proved their loyalty. As sons set off to war, so many mothers and fathers told them, live if you can; die if you must; but fight always with honor, and never, ever bring shame on your family or your country.

Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated. For their numbers and length of service, the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, including the 100th Infantry Battalion, became the most decorated unit in American military history. By the end of the war, America’s military leaders in Europe all wanted these men under their command. Their motto was “Go for Broke.” They risked it all to win it all…wounded soldiers left their hospital beds against doctor’s orders to return to battle…They fought in Italy…in France and liberated towns that still remember them with memorials. They took 800 casualties…to rescue the lost battalion of Texas…

A group of Army veterans who knew firsthand the heroism of the Japanese American soldiers, attacked prejudice in a letter to the Des Moines Register. It said, “When you have seen these boys blown to bits, going through shellfire that others refused to go through, that is the time to voice your opinion, not before.” In Los Angeles, a Japanese American soldier boarded a bus in full uniform, as a passenger hurled a racial slur. The driver heard the remark, stopped the bus, and said, “Lady, apologize to this American soldier or get off my bus.” This defense of ideals here at home was inspired by the Japanese Americans in battle.

President George W. Bush

At the Dedication of the National World War II Memorial, May 29, 2004

America gained strength because African Americans and Japanese Americans and others fought for their country, which wasn’t always fair to them. In time, these contributions became expectations of equality, and the advances for justice in post-war America made us a better country…

In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the Merchant Mariner. They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point. They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private Joe Sakato [442nd RCT]. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy.

Click here to watch President G.W. Bush’s 2004 dedication speech on C-Span [skip to 1:30:18 mark for the section on Nisei soldier George Sakato].

Ken Burns, PBS Documentary Filmmaker

Mr. Burns discussing his 2007 Documentary Series, “The War.” The Rafu Shimpo Newspaper, August 24, 2007, Page 3

The one exception we made to pursuing any one particular ethnic group was the Japanese Americans, who we think experienced the worst, most hypocritical treatment from the United States and then went to serve their country with such extraordinary valor and glory that we could not ignore it. Indeed, in every episode of the film, there’s a section on the Japanese Americans, beginning with a nucleus of three men we met in Sacramento

Ken Burns, PBS Documentary Filmmaker

Mr. Burns discussing his 2007 Documentary Series, “The War”
KPCC, Patt Morrison Interviewer, September 21, 2007

One of the towns we covered was Sacramento. In the course of our investigations there several Japanese Americans presented themselves to us and told the heroic story of the 442nd as well as the less heroic story but no less interesting passage of the internment in which these American citizens had their businesses, their homes, their farms taken away from them with one week’s notice, take what you could in one suitcase. They went to camps, the young men classified as enemy aliens, and when the government reversed policy and recruited them not for a specific branch of service but for frontline combat duty, they volunteered and served with great distinction and decorated as much as any regiment that we know.

The great irony there is when these young men gave up their lives, the ultimate honor for our country, the death notices would go to parents who were still under armed, machine gun guard in inland relocation camps. To me, it’s one of the supreme not just ironies and tragedies of the war, but one of the greatest patriotic acts. They would receive these notices, “Your son has given the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and by the way, if you take two steps to the left, I’m going to have to shoot you.” That’s an amazing, amazing sacrifice, in some ways, unequalled even with the segregation of African Americans and other indignities upon minorities, to think of the extraordinary service at every level paid dearly by Japanese Americans, and it is in nearly every episode of our series.

P.J. O’Rourke, American Political Satirist, Journalist, Author

Mr. O’Rourke in his review of Robert Asahina’s history of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, Just Americans (2006).

On the Japanese American WWII Soldiers:
…People who gave everything for a country that seemed intent on taking everything away from them. If citizenship is earned, here are the Americans who most deserve their pay. If citizenship is bequeathed, here is freedom’s greatest legacy. If citizenship is a blessing, here are the patron saints.”

ERIC SAUL, HISTORIAN

From Mr. Saul’s speech, “America at Its Best.” March 25, 2001. Seattle, Washington:

So why was it you Nisei, second generation, born in America, were willing to volunteer for the Army from the plantations of Hawaii, often when you were considered second-class citizens, or from concentration camps in America? Your parents couldn’t become citizens or own land, so land was put in your name. Before the war, you wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and professionals, but you couldn’t. No one would hire you. So you worked on your family farms, flower orchards, and shops, You were often segregated in the Little Tokyos and Japantowns. You couldn’t go where you wanted, be where you wanted, be whom you wanted.

Furthermore, your President, on February 19, 1942, signed an Executive Order that said you weren’t Americans anymore, you were “non-aliens.” So why did you join the army? Why did you become soldiers, and ironically become, of all things, the most decorated army unit that this country has ever produced?

There were [Japanese] words like giri and on, which your parents taught you, which means “duty,” and “honor,” and “responsibility.” You had to pay back your debt to your country.

Oyakoko: “Love for family.” Your parents couldn’t become citizens, but you loved your families and you had to prove your loyalty at any cost. You used your bodies as hostages for your families to prove your love for democracy and justice when you volunteered from those camps.

Kodomo no tame ni: “For the sake of the children.” Many of you didn’t have children at the time, but you knew you wanted to have families. And you knew that you didn’t want your children to have to suffer as you did. You wanted your children to be able to be doctors, and lawyers, and professionals. If you went into the military, did your job, perhaps things would change. You knew it, and you fought for it. You even came up with your own regimental motto that’s on this honored regimental flag in front of me. It was “Go for Broke.” You set the tone for your own regiment, and lived up to its motto. You made democracy work. Because of your wartime record, your children can now be what they want in a country that you wanted for them.

Click here to read Mr. Saul’s speech in its entirety.