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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Watada stance offends Japanese-American veterans

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer


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The decision by a Hawai'i-born Army officer to disobey deployment orders to Iraq drew fire yesterday from some Japanese-American veterans on the Mainland, who said the action shamed them and other veterans like them.

In their first public statement, the members of nine veterans groups in California and a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient expressed outrage at Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada's decision.

Robert M. Wada, a charter president of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans, said veterans are angry at what they view as an attempt by Watada to "make himself a martyr and a hero." He said Watada's actions disrespect a legacy of military service dating back to World War II.

"No Japanese-Americans did anything like that and that is why Japanese-Americans are so upset," Wada said by telephone yesterday from his office in Fullerton, Calif. "He is doing something that has never been done by Japanese-Americans."

But Bob Watada, the lieutenant's father, said that calling his son's actions shameful to Japanese-American veterans was "a stretch."

He said his son is grateful for the veterans who fought to defend the Constitution.

"My son is doing the same thing, fighting for the Constitution, fighting to preserve civil liberties," Watada said by telephone yesterday from San Francisco, where he is speaking to community groups this week about the case. "He is standing up for our Constitution and all the principles it stands for."

Ehren Watada, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate, was charged last month with conduct unbecoming an officer, missing troop movement and contempt toward officials. He refused to deploy to Iraq on June 22 with his Stryker unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Watada is awaiting the results of Thursday's Article 32 hearing. The hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding and could result in a court-martial proceeding.

Until yesterday, the Mainland veterans had preferred to remain quiet and let the lieutenant's actions dictate whatever punishment the military would give him, Wada said. But the Japanese-American veterans complained repeatedly last week, via e-mail and phone calls, when Watada scheduled a news conference at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, Wada said.

The center is home to several memorials honoring fallen veterans, including Watada's uncle, a Korean War casualty. The veterans planned to protest, but the news conference was canceled.

"No one refused to go just because they didn't believe in the war," Wada said emphatically. "We went to Korea, and we didn't know what the hell we were there for. In Vietnam, those guys didn't know what the heck they were there for. But nobody refused to go."

The organizations objecting yesterday to Watada's actions included the Japanese American Korean War Veterans, Americans of Japanese Ancestry WWII Memorial Alliance, five Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, an American Legion post and the Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council of Southern California.

Japanese-American veterans in Hawai'i have not issued a collective statement, but when asked yesterday, agreed with their Mainland colleagues.

Ron Oba, the 82-year-old president of the 442nd Veteran's Club of Honolulu, was blunt.

"It is not for us to question why, but to do and die," he said. "That addresses the entire Watada case."

Oba said the veterans in the club haven't spoken much about Watada's case.

"No matter which way you answer, it is controversial," Oba said. "Some people believe it is immoral. Some people say you are an officer and you are trained to obey. And he is not obeying them."

S. Don Shimazu, a former president of the 442nd Veterans Club of Honolulu, said that as an officer who swore allegiance to his country, Watada should have understood what he was getting into.

"I think it is a disgrace," said Shimazu, 82. "He should have been very well aware of what the future held."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.