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Veteran of Nisei unit awarded Congressional Gold Medal

A decorated World War II veteran received yet another medal of distinction on Sunday when he was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the country.

Sporting his green Army jacket and a smile, Kiyoshi Ota, 91, accepted the award at Emeritus at Cape Cod, an assisted living facility in Hyannis where he is a resident.

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“I am so proud of my uncle, who proudly served our country,” his niece, Diane Ota, said by phone after the ceremony, where family, friends, and fellow veterans joined them for a buffet.

The medal was presented to him by David Worsman, a Vietnam veteran and close friend.

Ota, a Purple Heart recipient, was a sergeant in the US Army’s 442d Regimental Company L unit, which later merged with the 100th Battalion. The 442d Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese-American unit, became one of the most decorated units in US military history, according to federal records.

Six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into the war, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps. Then a regiment of more than 1,400 Nisei, second-generation Japanese-Americans, was activated and ordered to fight, federal records say.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the three Nisei units — the 442d, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and the Military Intelligence Service — for their dedicated service.

Ota, who suffers from dementia, had a stroke prior to the bill’s signing and was unaware he was a recipient. The stroke left him with limited speech.

Although Ota was in the spotlight, Patricia Herlihy, the assisted living facility’s executive director, said Ota was busy seeking out his old friends for a hug. “In a moment that’s all his, he’s thinking of other people,” Herlihy said.

Monique O. Madan can be reached at monique.madan@gmail.com.
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