Adm. Harry Harris, Jr., delivers remarks at a ceremony honoring World War II veterans of the 100th Battalion 442nd Regiment at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Brian Wilbur)

HONOLULU - U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., was among a group of more than 300 who gathered for the awarding of the French Legion of Honor to 34 World War II Nisei veterans of the 100th Battalion 442nd Regiment, Jan. 23 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

France’s highest award was presented to the Nisei veterans by Consul General Pauline Carmona, who flew in from the French Consulate in San Francisco for the special ceremony.

Ranging from 90 to 96 years old, the veterans were also honored as “Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur” (Knight in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor) for their participation in the liberation of France during World War II. Some of the veterans to receive the honor passed away after the award was approved.

Harris commended the “American Patriots” in an emotional keynote address.

“And now the names of these brave veterans here today will be added to that very select group of international heroes, and that honor is well deserved,” said Harris. “For each of you are heroes who served on the front lines, fought in the battles, bled on the battlefield and helped liberate a nation. Gentlemen, your deeds are the stuff of legends.”

Harold Kudo of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and president of the Maunalani Veterans Club showed his appreciation for the recognition from France.

“We are grateful for the support we receive. Thank you families and friends for being who you are, our ohana,” said Kudo. “To you fellow veterans, thank you for your military service. To the Consul General of France, merci beaucoup for today.”

The 442nd regimental Combat Team was composed of Japanese Americans – most of whom were from Hawaii. The current commander of the Army’s 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry Regiment, Lt. Col. Daniel J. Austin spoke of how the Nisei veterans overcoming tremendous obstacles continue to inspire those serving in the military today.

“I am positive that none of our veterans here on stage today fought 74 years ago for all of the honors and accolades they would receive over the decades,” said Austin. “They made a decision not knowing the future. They made a decision at a time when their nation did not live up to its ideals; did not accept their values as citizens. So yes, their war record is enviable. What amazing warriors, and perhaps even more remarkable, is their patriotism.”

Both Austin and Harris noted the need to never forget what the Nisei veterans accomplished.

“Our nation draws her strength from those who served in the past, like these veterans of World War II,” said Harris. “Our nation draws her strength from those who serve today, like those in uniform seated throughout the audience. And our nation will continue to draw her strength from those who freely volunteer to serve and defend our nation as members of our armed forces. Those who serve are part of an unbroken chain, linking Americans, generation to generation.”