HONOLULU – Nine veterans groups in California are criticizing 1st Lt. Ehren Watada for his decision to disobey deployment orders to Iraq.
Watada is trying to "make himself a martyr and a hero," said Robert M. Wada, a charter president of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans. He said Watada's actions disrespect a legacy of military service by Japanese-American soldiers dating back to World War II.
"No Japanese-Americans did anything like that and that is why Japanese-Americans are so upset," Wada said. "He is doing something that has never been done by Japanese-Americans."
The groups expressed their outrage at Watada in a public statement Monday.
Watada, 28, a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University and Kalani High School, refused to deploy to Iraq on June 22 with his unit based at Fort Lewis, Wash. He is now awaiting the finding of a hearing held last week that could lead to his court-martial on charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer, missing troop movement and contempt toward officials.
"No one refused to go just because they didn't believe in the war," Wada said. "We went to Korea, and we didn't know what the hell we were there for. ... But nobody refused to go."
But Bob Watada, the lieutenant's father, said his son is grateful for the veterans who fought in previous wars and he isn't dishonoring their legacy.
"My son is doing the same thing, fighting for the Constitution, fighting to preserve civil liberties," Bob Watada said. "He is standing up for our Constitution and all the principles it stands for."
Ehren Watada had scheduled a news conference at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, but it was canceled after veterans complained that it would be inappropriate.
The center is home to several memorials honoring fallen veterans, including Watada's uncle, who died in the Korean War.
The groups opposing Watada include the Japanese American Korean War Veterans, Americans of Japanese Ancestry WWII Memorial Alliance, five Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and American Legion post and the Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council of Southern California.
Japanese-American organizations in Hawaii have not issued a similar statement against Watada, but their sentiments are the same.
"It is not for us to question why, but to do and die," said Ron Oba, the president of the 442nd Veteran's Club of Honolulu. "That addresses the entire Watada case."