HOMER (AP) — A Homer World War II veteran received posthumously the highest civilian honor of the U.S. Congress last week, part of a group that received early Veterans Day recognition. Isao “Henry” Nakada, who died in 2008, served with the U.S. Army 100th/442nd Battalion, a unit of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, called the Purple Heart Battalion for the number of soldiers wounded in battle.
In ceremonies last week at the U.S. Capitol, Congress honored all members of Nakada’s battalion as well as Japanese-Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service. Nakada’s son, Mike Nakada, also of Homer, attended two days of ceremonies in Washington, D.C., honoring the Nisei veterans and picked up the Congressional Gold Medal given to his father.
“It was a real show,” Nakada said. “It was all about the old gents. They did a lot, those old guys.”
Legislation granting the award enjoyed bipartisan support in both houses, with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, cosponsoring it. President Barack Obama signed it last year.
“Granting this medal is a long overdue honor which recognizes and expresses our utmost appreciation for your dedicated service in the U.S. Army during World War II,” Boxer said at the ceremony. “You enlisted even as many of your family members and friends were sent to internment camps. You served your country despite being subject to hateful slurs and deep suspicion from many of your fellow citizens.”
Born Oct. 12, 1922, the fifth of 12 children of Ginzo and Kagi Ikehara Nakada, Isao Nakada grew up in Los Angeles County, Calif. He died in Homer at age 85 on March 13, 2008. Unable to pronounce his name, a grade school teacher called him “Henry,” with the nickname “Hank.” Nakada came to Alaska in 1940, arriving in Seward, eventually getting a job at Elmendorf Air Base. When World War II broke out, he got fired because of his Japanese ancestry.
After President Franklin Roosevelt issued order 9066 sending Japanese Americans to internment camps, Nakada’s parents and sisters went to Heart Mountain, Wyo. Kagi Nakada was in a wheelchair, and Isao Nakada’s eventual wife, Mitsu Hasegawa, a nursing student, cared for her at Heart Mountain.
Isao “Hank” Nakada joined the U.S. Army and got assigned to the 100th/442nd Battalion made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii, California and other states. All nine of Ginzo and Kagi Nakada’s sons joined the military. Most of the Nakada men who served in World War II were in the MIS. George Nakada served with his brother in the 100th/442nd, in K Company. Isao Nakada was in I Company, part of a group that rescued the 141st Texas Regiment, surrounded by 6,000 Germans four miles behind enemy lines in the Vosges Mountains.
“The amazing thing to me was he was 17 when he entered,” Mike Nakada said of his father. “When he was actually over there, he was 18-and-a-half running around Europe with this Thompson submachine gun.”
The battalion suffered 800 casualties, included 140 killed, to rescue 200 soldiers of the 141st. An infantry scout, Nakada would have been at the head of the final push, but he and another soldier had gone to retrieve the body of a fellow soldier. On the way, his Jeep hit a land mine and they were thrown into soft moss unharmed.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was an extremely lucky man,” Mike Nakada said of his father.
His Uncle George got raked by a submachine gun, a wound that left him partially paralyzed in one hand.
“He didn’t let it stop him,” Mike Nakada said. “They were tough buggers.”
Isao Nakada received a Purple Heart with a three oak leaf cluster. Decades after the war, and after reviewing medal nominations, 100th/442nd veterans received medals long overdue. Nakada got a Bronze Star in 2003.
Toward the end of the war, Isao Nakada won some money in a dice game and used it to look up Mitsu Hasegawa, who had gone to nursing school at Temple University in Philadelphia. The couple married in 1946. After a career as a university professor, Nakada and his wife moved to Homer in 1977 to be with his sons Mike and Robert.
Mike Nakada attended the Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies with his cousin Pat, daughter of Minoru Nakada, who served in the MIS. Minoru Nakada was a Japanese translator and went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki several weeks after America dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities, ending the war. Still alive, he wasn’t able to travel to the ceremony.
With four uncles who served in the MIS, Mike Nakada said he was glad to see the MIS veterans get recognition. While combat soldiers could talk about their experience, the intelligence service veterans were told not to say anything.
“I think they made the veterans feel good, especially my cousin’s dad who never got any recognition, because it was supposed to be secret,” Mike Nakada said.
At the Congressional Gold Medal events, Nakada talked to other sons of the veterans. They all said the same thing about their fathers.
“They didn’t talk about it at all,” Nakada said of the veterans. “They were just so quiet about what they accomplished in their place in history.”
For the award ceremony, congress closed the capitol to tourists. Nakada said the event was heavy on spit and polish.
“There was a lot of shiny brass and shiny black shoes,” he said.
More impressive were the military there to escort and care for the old veterans, he said. “There were tons of honor guards, 30 to 40 guys with the spiffiest uniforms possible,” Nakada said. “They were helping the vets with their wheelchairs, getting them off the bus — just being there to honor the vets.”