(Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers)

A son of immigrants and forced into a U.S. World War II concentration camp as a child, Norman Mineta became the first Asian American mayor of a major city (San Jose, California); leading to a distinguished 20-year career in Congress; the first Asian American Cabinet member, serving two U.S. Presidents, a Democrat and Republican.

He never forgot his roots or the shame and humiliation he and his family felt during WWII, and led the way for an apology from the U.S. government and redress for Japanese Americans. On September 11, 2001, in 2 hours and 20 minutes, Secretary Mineta ordered 4,638 planes to be grounded.  In the following days, he promised the American people that there will be no racial profiling at security check points at airports. His leadership as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, would ensure that what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII did not happen to any other group based on ethnicity or religion.

In 2006, Norman Mineta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.