Sunday, May 10, 2009
No Greater Love
(Above: Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, as a 19-year-old serving with E Company of the 442nd RCT. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.)
Did you know that no private monuments are allowed in the East Bay Regional Park District? It's been a strict rule ever since the district was founded 75 years ago.
But there's one exception: In Roberts Park there's a memorial to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese American World War II unit that was awarded more medals, man for man, than any other unit in American history.
Their heroism is even more impressive when you remember that they were fighting and dying for our country at the same time that their families were imprisoned in detention camps back here.
Never mind that they were American citizens, or that there were no similar mass roundups of German Americans or Italian Americans.
If I had been in their position, I would have told Uncle Sam to take a hike. But the men of the 442nd were made of better stuff. They not only agreed to serve, they volunteered.
The longtime general manager of the park district, the late William Penn Mott, was so moved by the 442nd's patriotism, he waived the rule against private monuments.
That's why there's a plaque and memorial bench in Roberts Park, right beneath the historic Blossom Rock Navigation Trees, a pair of towering redwoods that ships sailing into San Francisco Bay used to get their bearings during the Gold Rush days.
And the best time to visit the monument is at noon onMay 16, when the men of the 442nd gather for their annual memorial service to honor their friends who made the ultimate sacrifice.
One of them was Sadao Munimori, a 22-year-old who was the first member of the 442nd to receive the Medal of Honor. He was killed when he threw himself on a live grenade to save his friends. The date: April 5, 1945.
When I first read that, it gave me a start, because that was the day I was born.
It brought home to me the fact that Munimori - and all the other 500,000 Americans who lost their lives - died so you and I could live. They gave up their futures so we could have ours.
All of Mott's successors as general manager, including the current incumbent, Pat O'Brien, have followed his tradition of treating the 442nd with honor. The park staffers knock themselves out each year to make the memorial service as easy as possible for these heroic veterans. They even waive the parking fees!
For years, the men of the 442nd have asked me to thank the park district for them, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. So let me correct that now: Thanks, Mr. O'Brien, to you and all your people. The men really appreciate it, and I know Mr. Mott would approve.
Over the years, the ceremony has been broadened to honor all World War II veterans. And the men of the 442nd cordially invite you to join them.
Roberts Park is located on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland. Just follow the signs for the Chabot Space & Science Center and look for the turnoff to Roberts Park, about a mile before you get to the observatory.
Drive through the first parking lot and park in the second lot behind it. You'll find the 442nd monument just past the picnic area.
I look forward to seeing you there.