Haruye Nagano paid her last respects yesterday to her son, Hiroshi, who died fighting for his country on April 6, 1945.
Pvt. Nagano, 20, was killed in action in Italy, in the final assault of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all Japanese American unit that suffered more casualties and won more medals than any U.S. outfit of its size during World War II. Its motto became "Go for Broke."
Nagano's mother, now 86 and living in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena, visited her son's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, where 21 members of his unit are buried. She said it was her seventh and her final visit to the grave site since his remains were moved there from Italy in 1948.
"I'm very proud my son died in defense of his country," she said.
She was joined at the grave by 25 Japanese Americans from the Washington area, including three other veterans of the 442nd. Also present were several veterans of the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific.
The event, which included a brief Buddhist service, recalled a time when Japanese Americans led the final assault on the German positions in Italy. Their attack was to be a diversion, but after six days of fighting, they broke through enemy lines and spearheaded what became the main offensive leading to the Axis surrender before V-E Day. Nagano died on the second day of the attack.
For the Japanese Americans, speakers said yesterday, military service was especially meaningful. Suspected of enemy sympathies, 110,000 of them, including 70,000 who were American citizens, were imprisoned in dusty desert camps. Those who did not volunteer for service early were classified 4-C, as enemy aliens, and were barred from entering the armed forces.
That restriction was lifted by the time Nagano, who was about to enter pharmacology school, was drafted into the Army in 1944. The family lived in Idaho, far enough east of the Pacific coast to escape wartime internment.
Nagano's mother, born in Japan, had come to this country in 1921. From a family of six children, two other sons survive. They also live in Gardena. They did not accompany their mother here for the graveside service.
Despite 65 years in this country, Haruye Nagano speaks little English. Through a friend acting as an interpreter, she recalled the last letter she received from her son, thanking her for a pen she had sent him.
A small photograph of Hiroshi Nagano was placed in front of the tombstone, which was framed with garlands of flowers. Planes zoomed overhead and a light drizzle began to fall as the Rev. Shozo Honda, a Buddhist priest who works at the Library of Congress, chanted a prayer. Nagano was a Buddhist, but his grave site contains a cross. It was not until 1952 that the Army allowed the Buddhist "wheel of righteousness" to be displayed on gravestones.
"When we pay tribute to Mrs. Nagano, we pay tribute to our Issei Japanese-born mothers," said Mike Masaoka, 70, a veteran of the 442nd. "They gave us the strength to understand and the courage to fight for our country. Of all the minorities in U.S. history, none had to undergo the same kind of bias and hardship and be suspect by our own government. We proved Americanism is a matter of mind and heart and not of ancestry."
Hiroshi Nagano's mother wept quietly as a bugler played taps.