The irony of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye's war experiences has often been noted, but it bears repeating.
"Here we found ourselves to be enemies of the United States," the Senate's longest-serving Member said today in a ceremony kicking off a national tour of the Congressional Gold Medal won last year by his regiment and two other Japanese-American units in World War II. "But when the army created a [Japanese-American] regiment and called us up to serve, 75 percent of the eligible men applied."
Inouye, joined by California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Doris Matsui, recalled for a rapt audience in the Capitol how he went off to fight while his Japanese-American countrymen sat behind barbed wire in internment camps.
As a 17-year-old high school senior, Inouye witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. "I remember Dec. 7 as if it were yesterday," he said.
When the military lifted its ban on Japanese-Americans serving in combat units in the fall of 1942, Inouye enlisted. More than five decades after the end of the war, he was awarded the military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.
Inouye's regiment, the all-Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, became the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army. The other two units sharing in the Gold Medal were the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service.
The medal will travel to seven cities - New Orleans, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Houston - beginning in January.
After the tour, it will be on permanent display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.