WASHINGTON -- Thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II and became some of the most decorated soldiers in the nation's history were given an overdue thank you from their country Wednesday when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor.
Nearly seven decades after the war's beginning, Congress awarded three units the Congressional Gold Medal. In all, about 19,000 Japanese-Americans served in the units honored at a ceremony Wednesday -- the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
"This has been a long journey, but a glorious one," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., who lost his right arm fighting with the 442nd and was one of the honorees Wednesday. He described the honor as heartwarming.
About 1,250 people attended the ceremony at the Capitol. About a quarter of those present were former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s. Hiroshi Kaku, originally from Hawaii, served in the 442nd and his older brother, Haruo, served in the 100th. Hiroshi said he volunteered for the Army because he had something to prove.
"We wanted to show American citizens that we loved our country," he said. "We were born and raised here."
After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were viewed with suspicion. Nearly 110,000 were sent to internment camps.