Monterey WWII veteran to be honored in D.C

Most-decorated U.S. war unit
By Kevin Howe
Herald Staff Writer
Bill Omoto

      When Bill Omoto (Poston 16-5-C) turned 18 in 1943 in an internment camp in Poston, Ariz., he looked at his newly issued draft card and saw his classification was "4-C" — enemy alien.
Two years later the California-born, Monterey-raised Omoto came home a veteran of the Army's 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all Japanese-American unit that became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. armed forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.
     Today Omoto and 350 other veterans of the 100th [Battalion], 442nd and the Military Intelligence Service, all Japanese-American units that fought in World War II, will be flown to Washington, D.C., where their units will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony Wednesday. 
      The medal itself will be enshrined in the Smithsonian Institute, Omoto said, but each veteran will be presented a replica. The vets will fly free through the Honor Flight Network, which was founded in 2005 and provides transportation for World War II veterans to ceremonies honoring them.
     Omoto moved with his family from Los Gatos to Monterey when he was 5 and grew up on the Monterey Peninsula. The family was living in Del Monte Grove when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and shortly afterward, ordered to move inland, he said. They lived in Gonzales for a time and then were kept at the Salinas Rodeo Grounds before being sent to the Colorado River Relocation Camp at Poston (16-5-C).
     The internees became "a self-sustaining community," Omoto recalled. "We didn't just want to sit around. We built buildings, planted gardens, had our own security unit inside the camp."
Poston was divided into three camps holding more than 20,000 people in the Colorado River Valley. When he and other youths received their draft notices, Omoto said, they all went. "We felt it was our duty." A bus took about 30 of them to Fort Douglas, Utah, to be enlisted, and at a breakfast stop, he said, locals began making comments about "lousy Japs going to harvest the sugar beets."
     A military policeman on the bus set them straight, Omoto said, and the remarks quieted down. Next stop was Camp Blanding, Fla., for basic training, then Fort Meade, Md., and finally a port in New Jersey where he and other Japanese-American troops boarded SS Aquitania — "a sister ship to the Lusitania" which had been torpedoed during World War I — for an unescorted trip across the Atlantic to Scotland.
     From there, Omoto said, he was sent to join the 442nd. "The first guy met there was Royal Manaka, the first sergeant of the 442nd's service company."
     Manaka was a fellow Montereño and a longtime fisherman on Monterey Bay. Over the coming weeks, he met other Central Coast residents from Salinas, Watsonville and Santa Cruz.
     His unit fought in southern France and Italy until war's end. Omoto recalled that a German bullet shattered the stock of his M-1 rifle, that he stumbled over his "shelter-half buddy" in the night and discovered next morning that the man had died in his slit trench from concussion after a German shell exploded next to him.
     After the war, Omoto said, he worked at Abinante Music in Monterey, went to college in Chicago on the GI bill, married and then worked in the Monterey County Assessor's office until he retired.
     The Gold Medal, he noted, has been awarded to other distinguished units of World War II whose ranks were filled by minorities, including the Army Air Corps' all-black Tuskegee Airmen and the Marine Corps' Navajo Code Talkers.
     In all, he said, 25 groups of veterans and family members — 3,500 in all — plan to attend the ceremony.
Source: http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_19231214

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