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Clinton awards Medals of Honor to Asian-American World War II veterans

Sakato served in the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe during World War II  

June 21, 2000
Web posted at: 6:32 p.m. EDT (2232 GMT)

In this story:

Prejudice may have delayed recognition

'Used as cannon fodder'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton presented Medals of Honor to 22 Asian-American heroes of World War II, 55 years after the end of the war.

The seven living veterans received their medals from Clinton on the South Lawn of the White House, while relatives of the remaining 15 also accepted medals.

Officials said that Wednesday's ceremony acknowledged the personal injustice many Asian-American veterans experienced during World War II.

Even as many of their families were marched into U.S. internment camps, Japanese-American troops marched off to war in U.S. uniforms.

VideoNational Correspondent Anne McDermott explains why Medals of Honor are being awarded to Japanese-American veterans of World War II more than 50 years after their acts of heroism.
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"They wanted to prove to other Americans how wrong it is to judge a man by the pigment of his skin or the shape of his eyes," said an old World War II film.

Some 100,000 Japanese-Americans volunteered for 1,500 slots in the European theater. Eventually, some 33,000 Asian troops formed the 442nd Regiment.

They lived up to their motto: Go for broke. For the regiment's size and time in service, the 442nd is the most decorated fighting unit in American history.

Prejudice may have delayed recognition

Now, more than half a century later, some of those U.S. servicemen are getting a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor.

A few years back, the Army reopened the files of dozens of Japanese-American and Pacific islander soldiers from World War II, to see if any of them might have been denied awards because of possible prejudice.

Inouye lost his arm fighting German forces with the 442nd; during his service he received a Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with cluster and 12 other medals and citations  

It was determined that more than 20 men should have gotten Medals of Honor, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who lost an arm on a battlefield in Italy.

Another man who was honored Wednesday is George "Joe" Sakato, who was wounded in France. Sakato says he is not sure if racism played a part in the long delay in his recognition.

'Used as cannon fodder'

While Sakato said he does not know whether he deserves a Medal of Honor, he does know that his old unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, always seemed to be in the thick of every fight.

"As a unit we were used like cannon fodder," Sakato recalled, adding, "I was willing to die for my country."


The Medal of Honor was created for the Civil War, and Congress made it a permanent decoration in 1863.

Almost 3,400 men and one woman have received the decoration for heroic actions in the nation's battles since that time.

Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History

A friend of his did die after emerging from a foxhole and getting hit by German fire from a nearby hill.

It was what Sakato did after his friend was shot that ultimately won the veteran his medal.

"Maybe I went out of my mind or I just lost it," he remembers, "I was going to go take that hill back, or die trying."

He took the hill and lived to tell about it. But more than 50 years later, Sakato still thinks of the friend he left behind in France, and he says part of his medal always will belong to that fallen comrade in arms.

CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett contributed to this report.

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