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Veterans honored during Memorial Day ceremonies at Camp Williams

By Whitney Evans and Katie McKellar

Deseret News

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 7:05 p.m. MDT

Charleen Thompson places a flower at the grave of her mother-in-law at Camp Williams, Monday, May 27, 2013 after visiting the grave of her husband, Paul Thompson Jr. She is wearing her husband's kilt.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

BLUFFDALE — When Casey Kunimara joined the armed forces during World War II, his parents were still housed in an internment camp.

He had recently been released from the camp himself and joined other Nisei — second-generation American-born citizens — in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the United States Army. Only a few years before, he and other Japanese-Americans had been classified as unfit for military service.

They were determined to show their new country that they were not only American, but willing to risk their lives for the freedom of their fellow citizens.

"I think it made me a better citizen. More proud of this country. You can change the minds of a people by your actions," Kunimara, who served in the 442nd for 18 months, said.

His battalion was honored Monday, along with the 100th Infantry Battalion and Nisei Military Intelligence Service, with a commemorative plaque in honor of these Congressional Gold Medal veterans. They had collectively been awarded this honor in 2011.

"Who'd think I'd be able to stand?" Kunimura asked, when members of the 442 were asked to stand near the plaque unveiled in their honor on Memorial Day.

Wearing a red and blue Garrison Cap with the words "Go for Broke" embroidered in white, Kunimara and a dozen other veterans stood next to the plaque that was covered by a white cloth.

After pulling the cloth off, he stood with his hand on another veteran's shoulder as they read the names engraved upon the Congressional Gold Medal plaque.

"I hope that those who see this plaque here will remember that these were just a bunch of young kids when we served and it was through them that we came to where we are today."

Chapel ceremony

A chapel ceremony at 10 a.m. paved the way for the unveiling. The courtyard outside the chapel at Camp Williams was full as the crowd waited for the chapel ceremony to conclude.

Inside the chapel, Lexi Walker, 11, sang "America the Beautiful," followed by speakers that included congressman Jim Matheson, who expressed gratitude for those who have and are currently serving in the military, and for their families.

"May we all remember that for every monument we see, for every flag on a grave, there is a story to tell, a human face to a life once vibrant," Matheson said. "These soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines are our families, are our neighbor, our classmates our friends and our colleagues and when the nation needed them they answered the call."

This is the most decorated regiment in United States Army history, Matheson said, and is often referred to as the Purple Heart Battalion. The 442nd were awarded 9,486 purple hearts, 4,000 bronze stars, 19 medals of honor, 52 distinguished services crosses, and one distinguished service medal, among other honors, Matheson said.

After the unveiling of the plaque, families of veterans were invited to stand near a floral wreath in honor of veterans. The words, "Thank you veterans" were written in gold cursive letters on a blue ribbon on the wreath. Shortly after, twenty-one volleys sounded during a cannon salute.

As the dust cleared a trumpet player sounding "Taps" on a hill came into view. When he finished, two bagpipers chimed in with "Amazing Grace."

The chapel ceremony, plaque unveiling and wreath presentation made up the first of three events held at Camp Williams on Memorial Day. The others included a ribbon-cutting ceremony for cemetery improvements and the dedication of a special forces monument.

Several hundred yards away, dozens of Patriot Guard Riders formed a semicircle around the entrance to the new columbarium at Memorial Park, holding 32 American flags, and one flag for each branch of the military.

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