HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress to an individual or group of people who have had an impact on American history and culture. The first was given to the heroes of the Revolutionary War.
KHON2’s Pamela Young headed to Washington, D.C. for the awarding to the newest honorees.
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For the veterans gathered at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, the tributes to each state was enough to stir up memories of the battles fought so long ago.
“All the memories of the time I served in Italy and wartime missions,” recalled Arthur Shak, a Hawaii veteran.
“It demonstrates their patriotism, their love of country and the courage they had in fighting for this country during a time when they needed us,” said Ed Gor, CA Recognition Project.
Like Nisei, Filipino, Native American and African American veterans, recognition did not come until years later.
“It’s such an honor and privilege to really be able to thank them for their service. It’s important to honor those for their selfless service during that era,” said Clarence Chinn, a Hawaii veteran.
In Hawaii, many of the 55 living honorees were not able to make the long trip across the country. They received their medals closer to home.
Lambert Wai received his medal on his 100th birthday. His advice for young people: serve your country.
“The military has opportunities in all areas that you could further your career. Do it,” said Wai.
Wai is one of the hundreds of medal recipients who claim Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry.
“If you have some Chinese blood and you served in World War II, you will be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal,” said Maj. General Robert Lee, U.S. Army retiree.
“We are honored to be members of the society that helped to free America. We still consider ourselves members of the Armed Forces Reserves,” said Fred Kamaka.
“Being a member of the Kamaka ohana, it’s important to represent my family the best I can. They’ve instilled in me service not only to each other and self but also to countries,” said Skyler Kamaka, Hawaii Air National Guard.
Air Force veteran Keith Lee was inspired by his uncle.
“I would say to my Uncle George, I’m really honored of how he has served in World War II and your bravery,” said Lee.
Marietta Chong followed her brothers into the Navy.
“Marietta just turned 98. So we’re really proud and happy that she’s receiving the medal today,” said Diane Chong, grandniece.
And the medals awarded to those long gone were gratefully accepted by proud sons and daughters.
“This was an opportunity to express pride in the Chinese community for having served on all fronts, whether it was the China-Burma front, the Pacific, on the mainland and also the European-African Theatre,” said Fred Lau, son of honoree Daniel Lau.
“The thing about dad is, he grew up with God first, others second, and me last. For him it would be, aloha and thank you so much,” said Mililani Akaka, daughter of honoree Sen. Daniel Akaka.
For all who came after, the lessons these veterans imparted are still relevant and vital today.
“We’re one country, one people, no matter what our heritage is. We can be proud to do our part and serve together and love each other,” said Betty Lou Wong, daughter of honoree.
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“Stand tall. You deserve it,” said Maj. Lee. “Thank you for your patriotism, sacrifice on behalf of our nation.”