I see myself as a missionary to downtown Los Angeles in my role as pastor of Union Church in Little Tokyo. With a missionary mindset I am seeking to hear the stories of the church community and surrounding neighborhood. Myself not being of Japanese descent (I am a third/fourth generation Chinese-American), I am just beginning to learn of the stories of the people who have built and sustained Union Church for nearly a century. I am working to listen to the stories of the people and the ways the church has impacted the neighborhood in big and small ways as an extension of their call to serve Christ.
On a recent waking tour of Little Tokyo I was reminded of the numerous contributions the Japanese Americans made not only to downtown L.A. but to the greater Los Angeles area and throughout California. Their contributions have had national and international impact as well as the following story of the 442nd Battalion demonstrates.
My friend Steve Yamaguchi summarizes the story well:
“This is the Story of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion” — a group of 260 National Guardsmen from Texas, how they were trapped, surrounded by ferocious German troops in the Vosges Mountains in France, and how they were saved in October of 1944.
Every effort to rescue them had failed, so the tenacious and accomplished 442nd infantry (all Japanese American volunteer soldiers) was ordered to liberate the Lost Battalion. In spite of seemingly impossible odds, the 442nd broke through the lethal German firestorm and liberated the Lost Battalion. 211 of the 260 Texas guardsmen were saved. Of the 442nd infantry, 216 gave their lives and 856 more were wounded while liberating their Texan fellow soldiers.”
These brave and highly decorated Japanese Americans volunteered to serve even though many of their own American-born families were being held in internment camps. Though treated in many ways as non-Americans and enemies of the U.S., they were determined to prove their loyalty to the country they were born in (yes, all of the 442nd were American born) even as their government took away their rights, their property and their dignity during this disappointing chapter in American history.
As Americans celebrate Independence Day, I want to encourage people to remember the story of the 442nd Battalion. It forces us to reject the opposite poles of romanticizing the U.S. as the world’s savior or demonizing the U.S. as the world’s oppressor. Though many of you may have already heard this story, I find that most Americans are largely unaware of the incredible sacrifices these Americans made in serving our country in World War II and the immense confrontation they faced of serving their country even though they themselves were treated as enemies before, during and even after the war. I’ll spare you from theologizing too much but I think there’s a story about Jesus somewhere in here. The amazing thing is that this story actually connects to the neighborhood I work in now. What redemptive stories are in the communities where you work, live, shop and play? As I watch fireworks this weekend, these Americans are some of the faces I want to remember as I thank God for the freedom we experience in this nation.