Norman Mineta receives Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee UNITY award

Norman Mineta, center, is pictured with Japanese American Veterans Association members. Photo credit Courtesy of Japanese American Veterans Association

The Friends of the National World War II Memorial used Valentine’s Day to present the Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee UNITY award to Norman Mineta for his lifelong public service as a military veteran, Congressman, Cabinet member, and advocate for educating youth about democracy and what it means to be an American.

“Norman Mineta has lived a life of public service and leadership and is an exceptional advocate for unity and for faith in American democracy,” said Josiah Bunting III, chairman of Friends.

Mineta was born in Calfornia in 1931. As the son of Japanese immigrants, he spent a portion of his early years in internment camps established following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

He went on to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and joined the Army, serving in Japan and Korea.  Mineta’s first public office was as the mayor of San Jose. He went on to be elected to Congress and served as both Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Commerce.

“Much like Gen. McGee, Mineta has suffered, sacrificed, persevered, and inspired,” said Bunting. “But they both overcame adversity and they inspire us to greater heights as communities and individuals, both sacrificing so much and yet persevering while staying unwaveringly true to the American ideals of unity and hope.”

The award was presented on Feb. 14, the 78th anniversary of McGee’s first mission during World War II. McGee, a Tuskegee Airman, died on Jan. 16 at the age of 102.

“We are thrilled our father’s name will be memorialized on this award,” said McGee’s daughter, Charlene McGee-Smith.

In the 1980s while serving in Congress Mineta met McGee.

“We talked about aviation and of course his experience with the Tuskegee Airmen,” recalled Mineta.

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Mineta said he came to admire McGee for his perseverance.

“He is a true gentleman and I got to know him and like him,” added Mineta.

Mineta added that he is “overwhelmed” to be the award’s first honoree.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtesy of Japanese American Veterans Association