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Congressional Gold Medal, Hawaii parade honor Japanese-American WWII vets

Alan Rhoads gives a flag to veteran Theodore Wakai before the start of a parade in Waikiki honoring Japanese American WWII veterans, Saturday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
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HONOLULU (AP) - Hundreds of Japanese-American veterans of World War II were honored Saturday with a parade in Honolulu - nearly 70 years after they volunteered to fight for their country even as the government branded them "enemy aliens."

About 200 veterans rode in convertibles, troop carriers and trolleys past a cheering crowd of tourists, family and local residents. The event celebrates the Congressional Gold Medal the veterans received last month.

Thousands of Japanese-Americans served in World War II even as the government viewed them with suspicion because their ancestors were from the country that bombed Pearl Harbor. Some on the mainland enlisted from internment camps, where the federal government had imprisoned 110,000 Japanese-Americans.

Fragile health prevented many of the surviving veterans - the youngest of whom are in their 80s - from traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend a ceremony at which the medal was presented.

Two-thirds of the Japanese-Americans who served were from Hawaii.

Many others were from California, Oregon and Washington state.

The medal recognizes the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion which together saw some of the most brutal fighting in the war as the soldiers pushed their way through Italy, France and Germany.

By the end of the war, the combined unit became the most highly decorated military unit in U.S. history for its size and length of service.

Those in the parade Saturday wore hats with the names of their units on them, and some included the saying "Go for Broke," which had been the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat team.

The medal also honors Japanese-Americans who served as translators and interpreters against Japan, often on the front lines with Marines and soldiers fighting from island to island across the Pacific.

As members of the Military Intelligence Service, they deciphered key Japanese communications, including one that tipped off the U.S. to the flight plans of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto - the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor - in 1943. The U.S. shot down his plane, dealing a major blow to Japan.

The parade also honored members of the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion who were stationed on Oahu during the war.

The elite medal has been given selectively since 1776, when George Washington was awarded the first. Other honorees include the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Rosa Parks and the Dalai Lama. The Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black fighter pilots, received the medal in 2007.

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