Washington (CNN) -- Surviving members of legendary Japanese-American Army units, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, gathered around President Barack Obama on Tuesday as he signed a bill granting their forces the Congressional Gold Medal -- one of the nation's highest civilian honors.
The measure cited the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service, for their World War II exploits, including what the website GlobalSecurity.org described as the rescue by the 442nd of a trapped battalion in the Vosges Mountains of France.
Known as Nisei -- the Japanese word for second-generation in reference to children of Japanese immigrants in America -- the soldiers experienced heavy casualties in multiple campaigns, while relatives back home were detained in camps and discriminated against as part of anti-Japanese war fervor, according to GlobalSecurity.org. Many members of the units volunteered for service when recruited at internment camps, the website said.
Inouye was a second lieutenant in 1945 when he led his platoon in an attack on enemy positions in Italy, sustaining injuries that required the amputation of his right arm, according to GlobalSecurity.org. He previously was awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other honors, the senator's website said.
At Tuesday's signing ceremony, the Democrat from Hawaii walked with a cane in his left hand.
"This well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal honors the Nisei veterans and demonstrates the greatness of our country," said a statement by Hawaii's other Democratic senator, Daniel Akaka. "While some Japanese Americans were being wrongly interned due only to their ethnicity, these brave men stepped forward to defend our nation. Their bravery helped to not only win the war, it paved the way towards a more tolerant and just nation."