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News From The Past

March 26, 2001, 02:45 PM

Japanese-American war heroes honored



SEATTLE – It has been more than 50 years since William K. Nakamura and James K. Okubo put their lives on the line for the United States in World War II while their families waited at internment camps back home.

Now, months after they were each posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, Seattle's United States Courthourse was renamed after Nakamura on Monday. At a ceremony on Sunday, the two men were honored by local and state officials, as well as members of their units and other state Medal of Honor recipients.

The courthouse in Seattle was renamed the William Kenzo Nakamura Courthouse.

A medical and dental clinic under construction at Fort Lewis will be named in honor of Okubo.

"It was a surprise," said Nakamura's sister, June Oshima, of El Monte, Calif. "Not that it wasn't deserved."

Nakamura and Okubo were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor, along with 20 other World War II veterans of Asian ancestry last June. Twenty of the 22 were Japanese-Americans.

Nakamura died at the age of 22 from an enemy bullet in Castellina, Italy, on the Fourth of July of 1944. Okubo served as a medic, risking his life to treat wounded men on the battlefield, and taught first aid classes to other platoons.

Both men served in the 100th Battalion's 442nd Regimental Combat Team – almost entirely Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans, and the most decorated unit of its size in American military history, according to James McNaughton, an Army historian.

"We honor these two men for their uncommon courage and shining example of brotherly love for their fellow soldiers," said Robert Sato, commander of the Nisei Veterans Committee and veteran of the 442nd.

Nakamura was born in Seattle and graduated from Garfield High School in 1939. His mother died in January 1942, two months before his father and the four children were shipped to the Minidoka concentration camp near Hunt, Idaho.

His brother volunteered for the army, and he followed soon after. The private first-class helped save his platoon twice before he was fatally shot. His commanding officer nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but it wasn't awarded until last spring.

"We've come a long way," said Hisako Funai, of Seattle, who met and married Nakamura less than a month before he died.

Nakamura was buried at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in Seattle.

Okubo was born Anacortes in 1920. His family later moved to Bellingham, where he attended Western Washington University. His family was relocated in 1942 to the Tule Lake concentration camp in California, then to the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming.

His family spent two years in concentration camps before settling in Detroit, Mich.

Okubo volunteered to join the military with his two brothers and two cousins. Okubo, a technician fifth grade, evacuated and treated soldiers wounded during battle.

After the war, he went to dental school at the University of Detroit and later joined the faculty. He married and had three children. In 1967, he was killed in a car accident.

His family said he rarely talked about the war.

"I just feel the Japanese-Americans at the time were undergoing such discrimination," his wife Nobi Okubo said. "We wanted to let the world know we were as much a part of American society and we wanted to do what we could for the country."

Gov. Gary Locke made a proclamation, declaring the week of March 25-31 in honor of Nakamura and Okubo.

"It's only sad their recognition comes some 56 years after their incredible efforts," Locke said. "It's recognition long overdue."

In 1996, Congress requested a review of military records. All Asian Americans who received Distinguished Service Cross were re-examined to see if they should have been awarded the Medal of Honor, said James McNaughton, an Army historian.

Steve Finley, a Bellevue-based public-affairs consultant, saw a Seattle Times article about Nakamura's honor last June and remembered that Chicago's O'Hare Airport was named after a World War II Metal of Honor recipient. He began contacting members of the Seattle City Council, King County Council and Congress to suggest renaming the United States Courthouse.

"Everybody knows it was a terrible wrong that was done," said Congressman Jim McDermott. "William Nakamura is a symbol of hundreds, thousands of Washingtonians who were mistreated badly."

Finley also contacted officials at Fort Lewis to suggest honoring Okubo.

Four other Washington residents who won the Medal of Honor were honored Sunday: Robert Bush of Olympia, Joe Jackson of Kent, John Hawk of Bremerton and Richard McCool of Bainbridge Island.

2000-01, by KING-TV

 Article Contributed by Gayle Alvarez

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