The following is a guest blog post by Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project.
May 29, 2004 was one of the great days of my life. On that day, the World War II Memorial on The Mall in Washington, DC was dedicated. For two years before, I worked as the Director of the Dedication for the WWII Memorial and now all my efforts and the hard work of scores of others was coming to fruition. There are many good memories of that date but one that stands out for me was the speech given by President George W. Bush to accept the memorial on behalf of the nation and honor the tens of thousands of WWII veterans present that day and the millions of others throughout the nation.
In his speech, President Bush did cite a handful of veterans. One of those was Private Joe Sakato. Bush said: “Army Private Joe Sakato in heavy fighting in France saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill, determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding 2, capturing 4 and inspiring the whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy. Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe Sakato said, ‘I’m not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did road rage.’ This man’s conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor.” This passage always stayed with me as an example of the self-effacing and wry attitude of many WWII veterans and also a genuine example of a heroic act.
Joe Sakato was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit made up of Japanese-American citizens who fought bravely to prove their allegiance to their country. This unit proved to be the most decorated unit for bravery in WWII. Like Joe Sakato, these soldiers would also say “I’m no hero. There are others who earned that title and that’s those who never came home.”
On December 2, 2015, Joe Sakato passed away in Denver, Colorado at the age of 95; another departed member from the diminishing ranks of WWII veterans. He may be gone but his memories remain in his Veterans History Project collection. I am certain that Joe’s family members and fellow veterans of the 442nd RCT are pleased his story will not fade but will live on to inspire and instruct generations into the future.
The sands of time are running out on our WWII Veterans. We must do what we can while we can: record their stories, collect their letters and photographs, or encourage them to write about their experiences. Go to www.loc.gov/vets to learn how to do this. Like Joe Sakato, the veteran in your life will not be forgotten.