By CHELSEA JENSEN
Congressional Gold Medals honoring and continuing the legacy of the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s and the Military Intelligence Service’s contributions during World War II will be awarded June 16 in Kailua-Kona.
Local nonprofit Sons and Daughters of the 442 RCT will bestow the official replica Congressional Gold Medals upon 65 to 70 veterans — both living and dead — of the Nesei units during a special Saturday ceremony at Kona’s Kekuaokalani Gym, located south of the Old Kona Airport Park, said Tracey Seki Matsuyama, who founded the Kona organization nearly two decades ago. Also sponsoring the ceremony is the Kona Japanese Civic Association and West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.
“This is the last call for the state of Hawaii to honor the Congressional Gold Medal recipients,” said Seki Matsuyama, whose father, Don Seki, was part of the 442nd. “This is it. This is the last call to be with these men.”
Seki Matsuyama said the ceremony is the last in the state to bestow the medals with Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hilo already holding events. An official national ceremony attended by thousands, but not all Nisei veterans, was held in November 2011 in Washington, D.C.
The Kona ceremony, slated to begin at 10 a.m., will open with a presentation of the colors by the Hawaii Army National Guard lead by Ret. Gen. Robert E. Lee. Veterans, as well as families of veterans who have died, will receive lei along with a 3-inch Congressional Gold Medal.
Lee, Seki Matsuyama’s son, Evan Seki Matsuyama, a 2011 Kealakehe High School graduate who received an honorable medical discharge from the U.S. Air Force Academy and is currently home, and others will speak at the event.
Eight West Hawaii veterans are expected to receive Congressional Gold Medals in addition to the families who will accept the honors posthumously, Tracey Seki Matsuyama said. Most of the men are in their late 80s or 90s.
Veterans who’ve received medals, whether through a similar event in Hawaii or during the ceremony in Washington, are asked to attend. They will be honored along with the new recipients, Seki Matsuyama said.
“We want the community to understand what these men sacrificed — what these men did for America to be American,” Seki Matsuyama said explaining members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service volunteered to be soldiers. About 130 came from Kona, she said.
The Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow — was awarded collectively to the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service in November. Since, replica presentations have been held throughout the country to honor veterans and families of veterans who have died.
According to the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History, the 442nd team is the most decorated unit in U.S. military history with members earning more than 18,000 individual decorations, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, and 5,200 Bronze Stars. The team also earned five Presidential Citations in 20 days of Rhineland fighting, the only military unit ever to claim that achievement.
While upward of 70 veterans and their families have been identified to receive medals on June 16, Seki Matsuyama said she is still looking for veterans of the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. She purchased some 75 medals for the event costing nearly $5,000.
Seki Matsuyama encouraged U.S. Army 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service veterans, as well as family of veterans no longer living, who haven’t been contacted for the event to email her by Thursday at CGM.Kona@gmail.com. Only several medals remain, however.
Anyone who would like to donate to the ceremony, or help cover the cost of the medals, can send checks payable to the 100th Inf. Legacy Organization, care of Ross Oue, CPA, 75-5709 Hanama Place, Kailua-Kona, HI. The donations will be tax deductible because the organization is a 501(c)(3).
Email Chelsea Jensen at email@example.com.