PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Seven World War II veterans from Hawaii received the French Nation Order of the Legion of Honor aboard the French frigate FS Prairial (F731), July 2.
The honorees were Shiro Aoki, Yasunori Deguchi and Hiroo Endo, who served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; Edward Ikuma, Yoroku Ito and Shuji Akiyama, who served with the 100th Infantry Battalion; and Albert Brum, who was from Canada and fought with British and U.S. forces in France.
For more than a decade, the government of France has presented the Legion of Honor to U.S. veterans who participated in the liberation of France during World War II. The Legion of Honor is France's highest award. This award can only be presented by someone who has received it and is only given to living recipients.
Rear Adm. Anne Cullere, commander in chief of French forces in the Pacific, thanked the men for their courageous effort.
"This is a very special day today, we are gathered here to honor seven men that decided fighting for freedom was worth every effort unto the ultimate sacrifice," Cullere said. "Here we are 70 years later honoring the sacrifice of too many of your comrades. We mourn with you. For what you achieved in the streets of Bruyeres and the dark woods of Vosges, we very heartily salute you. Today, I will bestow the French Legion of Honor the highest, honorific medal in France."
The award meant a lot to Edward Ikuma, who fought in France from October 1944 to March 1945.
"This is a great honor. At no point in my life did I ever expect to receive an award like this," Ikuma said. "This means more to me than anything I can express."
Yasunori Deguchi agreed with the significance of the award.
"There are no words that can express the appreciation and the recognition of the impact of the Japanese Americans during the war," Deguchi said.
Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the award is well deserved.
"This is a significant day and a huge honor that the government of France is about to bestow on these seven men sitting in front of me now," Harris said. "This is about a country saying thank you, a grateful nation saying thank you to some folks that did amazing things in defense of that country and liberating that country during World War II."
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was composed of Japanese Americans most of them from Hawaii.
The 100th battalion fought in the Naples-Foggia campaign from September 1943 to January 1944 before becoming part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team which was also comprised of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Battalion, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 232nd Combat Engineer Company. The 442nd RCT fought in Italy, then in France before returning to Italy.
The 442nd fought their most famous battle in France where they rescued the "Lost Battalion" breaking through the line to rescue 211 men that were cut off by German troops. The 522nd FAB also participated in the drive into Bavaria which freed inmates from Dachau prison that was being marched to their death. The 442nd, including the 100th, was the most highly decorated unit in the history of the United States for its size and length of service.
Brum, the lone Canadian honored, fought in France as a member of 101st Airborne and British 6th Airborne Division. After the war, he served in U.S. Army retiring as a colonel. He later became a U.S. citizen and lives in Kaneohe, Hawaii.
The ceremony was held aboard Prairial, which is homeported in Tahiti, and here for exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971.