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World War II AJA veterans to receive top French honor

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World War II AJA veterans to receive top French honor

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 09, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 02:33 a.m. HST, Nov 09, 2014

It’s been 10 years since the French government began honoring Japanese-American World War II veterans with the country’s most prestigious award — the Legion of Honor.

On Veterans Day, two members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — Harold Kudo and Shiro Aoki — will be given the award during a ceremony at the Maunalani Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where they now live.

Honorary French Consul Patricia Y. Lee said Kudo, who served for three years with the 442nd in Europe, asked to receive his medal before a planned awards ceremony early next year because “he fears he will not make it because of his frail health and health issues.”

Lee said she was told Kudo, 91, was “in tears when he received the letter from the (French) consul general,” about the award.

“Because they are all between the ages of 90 and 96, I’m happy to do this for him,” Lee said.

Kudo, who graduated from Farrington High School in 1942 and enlisted in the Army when the 442nd was formed, said that receiving the French medal will be a very emotional moment.

“It brings back memories of France and things that happened there,” said Kudo. “It reminds me of the people that are buried there.”

Aoki, 92, said he was honored that the French government recognizes the soldiers who liberated the country.

Since 2004, when 442nd veteran Barney Hajiro was bestowed the rank of chevalier, or knight, 72 AJA veterans — members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion — have received the award.

Aoki and Kudo are among the 60 Legion of Honor medal recipients approved by the French government this year, Lee said.

Both Aoki and Kudo were assigned to M Company of the 442nd, organized in March 1943 in response to the War Department’s call to form an all-Japanese-American Army combat unit.

Aoki and Kudo met when the Army unit was formed in 1943 and have remained friends for 70 years.

About 200 nisei soldiers were in M Company when it was formed, said Aoki, a 1940 Kohala High School graduate. “There are now only a very few active members,” Aoki said. “Maybe five or six active members.”

Aoki graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1950 and went to work for Pan American World Airways and retired as director of food service in 1985. Kudo worked for the federal government and retired as chief of the supply division for the Army.

Lee said the French government is working with the Maui Nisei Veterans Memorial Center to honor the 18 AJA veterans from Maui with a special ceremony in January on the Valley Isle.

The Legion of Honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. The French award is the country’s highest civilian honor and consists of five classes.

In descending order of distinction, they are grand cross, grand officer, commander, officer and chevalier. The order is conferred upon men and women, either French citizens or foreigners, for outstanding achievements in military or civilian life.

Among the Hawaii veterans to receive the award was the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who also was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his service with the 442nd in France and Italy, where he lost his right arm in combat. Inouye received the award from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011.

American servicemen who fought in one of the four main campaigns of the liberation of France — Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France between D-Day, June 6, 1944, and May 8, 1945 — are eligible.

The French government said there are approximately 93,000 Legion of Honor recipients. American recipients include Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur and Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, former chief of naval operations.

“Although France does not approve applications posthumously,” Lee said, “the families of those who have passed away after the award was approved can still receive the medal on behalf of his or her deceased father or spouse.”

The screening process can take as long as a year, Lee said. It took more than two years for the French government to approve medals for Aoki and Kudo.

Veterans or their family members can apply by writing to the Consulate General of France, 88 Kearny St., Suite 600; San Francisco, CA 94108.

VETERANS DAY EVENTS

Sunday

>> Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor: Hawaii premiere of “With Their Voices Raised,” 2 p.m. The documentary performance with stories of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima survivors was created by Kate Morris based on research done in Japan and is performed by T-Shirt Theatre, a project of the Alliance for Drama Education. Followed by Q&A with researchers Ryutaro Takahashi, vice president of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, and Patricia Liehr, a professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. A reception follows in Hangar 37. Free with museum admission and to museum members; $5 for performance only. Visit http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org.

Tuesday

>> National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl: Keynote speaker is Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. Ceremony begins at 10 a.m.; gates open at 8 a.m. Parking available on first-come, first-served basis. Call 532-3720.

>> Wahiawa Lions’ 68th Veterans Day Parade: Led by a joint service color guard and the Royal Hawaiian Band, along California Avenue from Kaala Elementary School to the district park, 10 a.m. Grand marshals are Military Intelligence Service veterans Glen Arakaki and Yoshinobu Oshiro and 100th Battalion veteran Mitsuo Hamasu. The theme is “Commitment, Honor, Sacrifice — Our Proud Veterans.” A program at the park follows with a flyover by World War II aircraft, massing of colors, speech by Brig. Gen. Sean M. Jenkins of the 25th Infantry Division, display of military equipment, bounce houses and food sales. Call Carolyn Hayashi, 522-5149, to participate or for information.

>> Governor’s Veterans Day Ceremony: Gov. Neil Abercrombie gives the keynote address at the event, 1 p.m. at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe. Musical prelude by the 111th Army Band of the Hawaii Army National Guard. The Office of Veteran Services will honor secretary Jennifer Aina, who has served since the office was established in 1988. Call Jayme Nagamine, 433-7683.

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