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Japanese American Nisei veterans honored in Memorial Day ceremony

One group of veterans shares a unique history when it comes to their military service and a special Memorial Day ceremony held in Denver honored their sacrifice.

KUSA - In the stillness of Fairmount Cemetery, there was a silence for those who fought and died for America under extraordinary circumstances.

“Many of them were serving their country and dying on foreign soil, while their families were incarcerated in concentration camps by order 9066,” said Calvin Hada, with the Nisei Veterans Heritage Foundation.

Order 9066 is the executive order that created Japanese internment camps in the western half of the United States during the second World War. Still, Japanese Americans answered the call to serve their country. They are called “Nisei” veterans. Most were sent to the European theater to fight for the U.S., mostly in France and Italy.

“I think they wanted to demonstrate their loyalty and commitment to the United States and, I think, also through serving to really prove that Japanese Americans are truly American citizens and should be considered and treated as such,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Richard Kondo.

In Denver, the Nisei War Memorial honors their sacrifices, including those of World War II veteran Sam Terasaki.

“I’ve come ever since they started this,” he said.

On this Memorial Day, Terasaki said he remembers his fellow Nisei who did not get to come home from the Front Lines, as well President Obama’s visit several days ago to Hiroshima. He became the first sitting American president to visit the site of where the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb, hastening the end of World War II in the Pacific Theater.

“I visited Hiroshima years ago, maybe 50 years after the fact,” Tersaki said, adding of the President’s visit. “I thought it was a wonderful gesture.”

Back at the Nisei memorial, there are fewer and fewer World War II veterans taking part.

“Every day, hundreds of veterans from World War II are passing away,” said Capt. Kondo. {It’s important] to take every moment possible, to give them recognition – America’s greatest generation is really important.”

All this, as the chance to do so fades with time.