Japanese-American veterans of World War II salute during the national anthem at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony Wednesday. Rep. Mike Hondas father, who served in the Military Intelligence Service after living in an internment camp, was among the honorees.
For Rep. Mike Honda, his family’s story came full circle this week.
In 1942, the California Democrat and his family were taken to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in southeast Colorado.
Today, he watched as Congress awarded a Gold Medal to Japanese-American veterans of World War II, a group that included his father.
Honda said his father would often talk about his time teaching Japanese as a member of the Military Intelligence Service after having been sent to an internment camp.
“He was always telling me about how the internment was unjust, unconstitutional, and, as a result, we just have to excel in everything we do,” Honda said.
“We just have to be 110 percent better in order to be recognized,” he recalled his father saying.
In addition to pushing him to succeed, the internment and subsequent military service motivated Honda’s father to be proud of his Japanese heritage.
“It drove him very hard on making sure that I understood and that I was not ashamed of being Japanese-American,” Honda said.
As a child, Honda remembered watching the John Wayne film “Sands of Iwo Jima,” which dramatized the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima. In the film, Wayne’s character refers to the Japanese forces as “Japs,” a word the young Honda then used when playing with his classmates.
Honda recalled his father’s reaction when he heard Honda using the derogatory word.
“He explained to me: ‘You just don’t say the word ‘Jap.’ It’s not a nice word. It’s a fighting word,’” Honda said.
Honda said his father’s experiences and beliefs have also inspired him during his time in Congress. As an example, he pointed to the recent resolution affirming “In God We Trust,” which he voted against.
Although others may have grappled with the vote, the decision was clear for Honda “if you understand what I understand and believe what I believe” about constitutional guarantees of freedom.
Despite having spent time without those rights in an internment camp, Honda said his father remained committed to the Constitution and the country that was supposed to protect it, a commitment that has carried over to Honda.
“We have to make sure that we do not take part in anything that diminishes anyone’s rights,” Honda said.
He said the Constitution was guided by a recognition that “men are imperfect.”
“It’s a country that can correct its mistakes,” he said, “but it has to have the courage.”