On May 6, the San Francisco Giants will celebrate their annual Japanese Heritage Night at AT&T Park by having Lawson Sakai throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Sakai, 89, is a veteran of E Company, Second Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese-American World War II regiment that was awarded more medals, man-for-man, than any other military unit in American history.

"We are proud to recognize and honor America's Nisei veterans of World War II," says Shana Daum, the Giants' vice president of public affairs and community relations. "Mr. Sakai represents the members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who made incredible sacrifices to protect our freedoms."

Four of those medals -- all Purple Hearts -- went to Sakai for grievous injuries suffered in combat. He was actually wounded a fifth time, but he refused to let his name be put up for another medal because he didn't think his wound was serious enough.

This will be the first pitch he has thrown since Dec. 7, 1941, when he played third base for Compton Junior College. On that day, he was listening to a pro football game on the radio when the broadcast was interrupted by a breathless announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

Irate, he marched down to the local Army recruiting office the next day to enlist. To his shock, he was told that he was no longer an American. He was now classified 4-C -- "Enemy Alien" -- even though he was born right here in the United States of America.

The next thing he knew, he and his family were rounded up along with more than 110,000 other individuals of Japanese descent and sent to euphemistically named "relocation camps" out in the boondocks of Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona, where they spent the war behind barbed wire and guards with machine guns ready to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

Despite this, he and thousands of other Japanese Americans volunteered to fight for the country that did this to them. During another time of national crisis -- the Revolutionary War -- Thomas Paine wrote, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country. But he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Lawson Sakai and his band of brothers in the 442 were winter soldiers. Their country may have betrayed them, but when their country needed them most, they kept the faith. And they deserve our love and thanks. Every year on Armed Forces Day -- the third Saturday in May -- the men of E Company meet at Roberts Park in Oakland for a May 18 memorial service honoring their comrades who never came back. And, once again, they invite you to join them.

Roberts Park is easy to find. Just take Skyline Boulevard and follow the signs for the Chabot Space & Science Center. About a mile before you get to the center, you'll see a turnoff to Roberts Park on your right. Go through the first parking lot to the second lot beyond it, and you'll spot me with a bunch of other people. We'll gather there and walk about 100 yards or so into the park to the site of the service. The ceremony will start at noon. See you there.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.

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