Local World War II vets receive high honor

Japanes-Americans Kageta, Kamada presented with the Congressional Gold Medal
By: Gus Thompson Gold Country News Service
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Two local men joined thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II for an overdue thank-you from their country last week when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor. Nearly seven decades after the war, Congress awarded three Army units the Congressional Gold Medal. In all, about 19,000 Japanese-Americans served in the units that were honored at a ceremony Wednesday: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. 442nd members Frank Kageta and Norman Kamada traveled to the capital to receive their awards on Nov. 2. Their unit was commonly known as the Go For Broke regiments Kageta, 91, a retired Placer County Water Agency employee, raised his family in Penryn and moved to Rocklin three years ago. Norman Kamada, of Rocklin, was his “fox hole buddy” when they served in Europe. Kageta was accompanied by his son, Stuart Kageta, of Rocklin, a Del Oro High School teacher and volleyball coach. “I don’t claim to have done something outstanding,” Kageta said. “I’m just another Japanese-American soldier who was in the service for his country.” Kageta received a Bronze Star, but said he’s most proud of the combat veteran medal. “In combat, you really meet your enemy,” he said. “That’s the important part.” About 1,250 people attended the award ceremony at the Capitol. About a quarter of those present were former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were viewed with suspicion. Nearly 110,000 were sent to internment camps. Kageta’s family was sent to Heart Mountain, Wy. Frank Kageta worked outside the camp holding various jobs. He volunteered to join the Army in 1944, along with thousands of other “Nisei,” or second-generation Japanese-Americans. The 442nd experienced some of the most horrific fighting in Europe and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. In just 10 months of combat, more than 700 were killed or listed as missing in action. The 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. President Harry Truman welcomed home many of the Japanese-American soldiers in 1946: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won.” Stuart Kageta said the Gold Medal represents a validation of the stance Japanese-Americans took when they showed loyalty to the U.S. and joined the military out of the internment camps. “ Our family’s just super proud of those decisions he made,” Stuart Kageta said. “He paved the way for us as minorities to pursue whatever goals we have. They took the high road for future generations.” Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Adam Schiff, both Democratic lawmakers from California, were the original co-sponsors of the legislation honoring the Japanese-American soldiers. The legislation was signed into law last year. “You served our country despite being subjected to hurtful slurs and deep suspicions from many of your fellow citizens,” Boxer said. “While we can never repay the debt we owe you, we can and we must recognize your valor and your patriotism.” In Placer County, Japanese-American veterans have been honored as grand marshals at the 2008 Auburn Veterans Day parade, a monument at the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville and the naming of the road to the center “Go For Broke Road.” Plans are also moving forward on a statue to honor the soldiers at the Roseville site. The Associated Press contributed to this story.