By Michael Sugerman
Upper school math teacher Michael Mori will travel to Washington to accept the Congressional Gold Medal with the World War II military unit of his deceased father, Isamu Sam Mori. The ceremony will take place on Nov. 2 inside the Emancipation Hall at the United States Capitol Visitor Center.
President Barack Obama will award the medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service – which included mostly Japanese-Americans.
Three representatives from each unit will accept the medal, which will honor the Japanese-American men who “fought with uncommon bravery and valor against our nation’s enemies on the battlefields in Europe and Asia, even while many of their parents and kin were held in internment campus,” said the National Veterans Network website.
Mori’s father served in the MIS and was an interrogator for the United States in Japan towards the end of the war. While he was serving, members of the Mori family were being held in the Japanese internment camp in Poston, Ariz.
“On the one hand you can say, ‘How unjust, why should I have to go fight for a country that doesn’t respect who I am?,’” Mori said. “The beauty of this was that for the most part they felt that ‘Here in this country we are called Japs, and we are discriminated against. If we can show the country that we are loyal citizens and good soldiers who will defend this country, they will not call succeeding generations Japs.’”
Mori mentioned that Japanese-American soldiers were considered to be “expendable” during the war, and many of them died in battle.
Because of the numerous deaths, Japanese units were some of the most decorated. Despite their great sacrifices, he said that immediately after the war discrimination against Japanese-Americans was still very imminent. Because of this history, Mori appreciates the prejudice-free life he lives.
“The Japanese-American group is very much respected in the United States and I credit the men who gave their lives so that I could have the life I have,” he said.
He will travel to Washington as a “next of kin” and will be in the Capitol building with Obama as he presents the medal to one representative from each army unit.
“Because of their sacrifice I have the life that I live,” he said. “To teach at one of the best schools in the United States…if there was still discrimination I wouldn’t be here, or be allowed to be here.”
The event is intended to accentuate the positive of the war, Mori said, rather than to reflect upon the injustice towards Japanese during the World War II era.
“In some ways I think I have a special pass now, because people have respect for me as a Japanese-American – they look at me and the joke is ‘You’re good at math,’” he said. “But they look at me and see that I am someone who has the heritage of character, respect…and there are all these positive things that I am lucky enough to enjoy. But I didn’t earn it – they did, which makes it such an honor to go to the ceremony.”