A new, free exhibit in the main lobby of the de Young Museum is small and simple — a medal in a glass case and a sign on the wall.
Yet the show, "American Heroes: Japanese American World War II Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal" opened with an important lineup of guests.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and a group of dignitaries greeted two dozen surviving members of the fabled all-Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The veterans, mostly from Hawaii and California, and their families were among some 300 attendees at the unveiling for the exhibition, which runs through August and includes a film and lecture series called "Japanese American Heroes of World War II."
Known as the "Go for Broke" regiments, the 100th and 442nd are among the most-decorated units in U.S. military history, having earned more than 4,000 Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars, seven Presidential Unit Citations and 21 individual Medals of Honor.
"We again celebrate the heroes and veterans, these men of the 'Greatest Generation' who were willing to pay any price and bear any burden to fight tyranny and secure our future," Pelosi said.
Lawson Sakai, of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, described his fellow servicemen as young members of families in interment camps who volunteered to serve the country — which was imprisoning Japanese-Americans as alien enemies.
"I was an 18-year-old," Sakai said, "and when I went to the Long Beach Naval Base right after Pearl Harbor, I was told I just became 4C — enemy alien, ineligible to serve."
Creation of the special units made it possible for Nisei to serve. More than 800 died in Europe, Sakai said, where the two units, and Nisei members of the Military Intelligence Service, helped the U.S. war effort substantially.
The exhibit, co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, is accompanied by online educational material, available at cgm.si.edu, which focuses on characteristics associated with Japanese-American veterans: "courage, respect, humility, perseverance, compassion and citizenship."
Other venues for the exhibit include Honolulu, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Ore., and the Holocaust Museum in Houston.
IF YOU GOAmerican Heroes
Where: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays except open until 8:45 p.m. Fridays; closes Aug. 4
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoungmuseum.orgFILM, LECTURE SERIES
Events, in museum's Koret Auditorium, are free
7 p.m. Friday: "Honor Bound: A Personal Journey"
2 p.m. Saturday: "Searchlight Serenade"
2 p.m. Sunday: "Uncommon Courage"
2 p.m. July 13: "Twice Heroes"
11 a.m. July 21: "Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story" with filmmakers Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers
Noon July 21: "A Flicker in Eternity" with filmmaker Sharon Yamato