Monday, March 17, 2014

91 year old WWII Veteran Kiyoshi Ota awarded Congressional Gold Medal...

Sunday was a long time coming for Kiyoshi Ota and his family.
Dressed in an olive-drab military jacket bearing the ribbons and awards he earned fighting in World War II, Ota, 91, received one of the highest civilian honors during a brief ceremony at Emeritus Senior Living on Route 28 in Hyannis, where he now lives.
In front of about 30 people, Ota's golfing buddy and Vietnam veteran David Worsman presented the Congressional Gold Medal to his friend, who smiled playfully as he posed with his family while seated in a wheelchair.
Like many other veterans, Ota never spoke much about his service, according to family and friends, but his actions and honors have done the talking for him.
In 1943 Ota joined the "Go for Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed entirely of Americans of Japanese descent and one of the most decorated outfits in military history. Ota worked his way up to the rank of sergeant and saw action in Italy, France and Germany.
The 442nd, which later merged with the 100th Infantry Battalion, has collectively been awarded more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Stars, and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses. Ota's unit also received the Presidential Unit Citation.
But there was one medal missing.
In 2010, President Barack Obama presented the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to more than 1,500 Japanese-Americans who fought in World War II for the 100th and 442nd, as well as the Military Intelligence Service.
Ota, somehow, was not on the list. His niece, Diane Ota, wasn't sure why, but at the time that was the least of their worries. Her aging uncle had suffered a stroke. Diane Ota became his primary caregiver, but after he suffered a series of falls, it was clear the arrangement wouldn't work, she said, adding that he wanted to move in with her.
"'I can't take care of you,'" she said she told him. They decided moving to Emeritus would be best.
Ota doesn't talk much about the war unless asked, she said. Worsman said he never heard his golfing buddy talk about it much, either.
When going through picture books with her uncle, Diane Ota asked him what France and Italy were like. He said he didn't know because he was on his belly most of the time.
In high school he played football and basketball and, according to his niece, was quite the ladies' man.
"I was reading his journals and I said, 'Oh, my God, Kayo!'" she said.
Kayo, as many affectionately refer to him, spent eight hours at work, then would go to school, and then dance the night away, his niece said.
Things changed after Pearl Harbor. Ota and his family escaped the West Coast Japanese-American internment camps because they lived in Ogden, Utah, but they still faced prejudice. Diane Ota said multiple family members lost their jobs because of their Japanese ancestry.
After the war, Ota earned a degree in psychology at Indiana University. He later attended Boston College to pursue a master's degree but never finished the necessary classwork. He moved to Dennis because of the golf courses and eventually persuaded his niece to join him.
As he had in the military, he climbed the ranks of the U.S. Postal Service, from mail carrier to technology supervisor. But his true passion was golf. That's where he met Worsman, a part-time worker at a Dennis golf course.
Golf became a secondary priority, however, once Ota had the stroke. Visits with Worsman became sporadic, although Ota would still show up to the greens sometimes to catch up with his friend and work on his short game.
One day, Diane Ota approached Worsman about the collective honoring of her uncle's regiment after she saw an invitation in the mail at the house of another uncle, who also had fought in the 442nd. She wondered why Kayo been left out, she said.
Worsman speculates the oversight may have resulted from a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Record Center that destroyed an estimated 80 percent of records from the World War II period. Diane Ota thought it might have come about because of her uncle's move east and his losing touch with fellow veterans of the 442nd, which has a large West Coast presence.
Whatever the reason, Worsman was determined to make sure his friend received his medal.
With help from the Go for Broke National Education Center, Worsman set out to file the paperwork to get the Congressional Gold Medal for Ota, who now suffers from dementia. Worsman worked the phones and filed the necessary paperwork in December, he said.
Now Kiyoshi Ota has joined the ranks of fellow Congressional Gold Medal winners such as Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Thomas Edison.
When Diane Ota talked to her uncle about the medal, he understood and replied, "It's about time."