As Memorial Day approaches, we remember and honor all American veterans who gave their lives for their country. In May, we also celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I would like to introduce a great American, Terry Sima. He is 100 years old and I worked closely with him for the first time at a Memorial Day event.
As people live longer and companies are challenged to find the right people to fill positions, they should consider how to accommodate and hire people of all ages who want to work. Companies need to rethink how they capitalize on the great talent and work-related experience of people who aren’t fully ready for retirement. Some of those who continue to work are former military personnel who have retired from military service but still remain a highly qualified civilian workforce in our country.
On Memorial Day 2009, I paid a special tribute to the Japanese American soldiers who fought honorably for the freedom and liberty of their country in World War II. I felt honored to be able to pay my respects. In our army, we are talking about a warrior spirit. It is the spirit of “Always put mission first, never quit, never admit defeat, and never abandon fallen comrades.” We use the term warrior spirit a lot these days, but the concept of never leaving your fallen comrades behind is nothing new.
This warrior spirit is powerfully portrayed in the story of two soldiers and the legendary Lost Battalion of World War II. One of the fiercest battles of World War II was fought in late October 1944 in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France by the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was a rescue mission. His 278 men of the famous 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, later known as the “Lost Battalion,” were trapped behind enemy lines.
Upon hearing this news, Hitler ordered the entire unit destroyed. His message was that these soldiers would not be allowed to fight on German land then occupied. The Germans were relentless. Again and again they attacked the soldiers who were left behind. And with each attack, the 141st Infantry Regiment lost more and more men. Several rescue attempts by other units were unsuccessful. The 442nd was then ordered to begin a rescue operation.
It’s late October. The weather was cold and rainy. The situation was dire. But the 442nd, made up of Japanese-American soldiers, did not falter. For five days, they fought day and night. And on the fifth day, they succeeded, reaching those left behind and saving all 211 who survived the carnage.
Against this background, I was honored when Mr. Terry Sima, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, asked me to speak at Memorial Day 2009 at Arlington National Cemetery. Terry and I would work together again on several important projects over the next few years.
At the time, I was the Director of Personnel in the Army, and it was during this assignment that Terry contacted me. He wanted Nisei to win the Congressional Gold Medal. Nisei Japanese Americans are Nisei Americans or Canadians born in the United States or Canada whose parents immigrated from Japan. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor given to people of all walks of life. This award is presented by the United States Congress for significant achievement and contribution to the nation.
Japanese American veterans so honored included soldiers from the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Office of Military Intelligence. Given my Japanese culture, it was a great honor to interact with the family and friends of the wonderful members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Today, many people do not have enough savings for 100 years of life and need or want to keep working. If so, companies would do well to find roles for people who can still work. Some of these workers need to go back to school to keep up with changes in business and technology. Alvin Toffler wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be the illiterate, but the incapable of learning, forgetting and relearning.” Employers should consider creating non-full-time opportunities for people who can add value to their team and want to spend more time with their families.
Considering the shortage of human resources as a labor force, continuing to employ employees who are often regarded as “old and retired” is also an opportunity for companies to continue to play an active role in Japan’s labor force. It can also be a win-win for those thinking. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website. I served as his COO and President of Intrexon Bioengineering. I was a commander in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. During this time, I was part of the national response team for Hurricane Sandy. I was the Army Personnel Director. During 9/11, I was in control of the Pentagon’s nuclear code.