November 2, 2011

Congress honors Japanese American soldiers

Posted in Congressional Gold Medal, Honor Roll, Japanese American Incarceration tagged , , , , , at 2:47 pm by minidokapilgrimage

November 2, 2011

Congress honors Japanese-American soldiers

Thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II and became some of the most decorated soldiers in the nation’s history were given an overdue thank-you from their country Wednesday when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor.


Associated Press

WASHINGTON —Thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II and became some of the most decorated soldiers in the nation’s history were given an overdue thank-you from their country Wednesday when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor.Nearly seven decades after the war’s beginning, Congress awarded three units the Congressional Gold Medal. In all, about 19,000 Japanese-Americans served in the units honored at a ceremony Wednesday: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.

“This has been a long journey, but a glorious one,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., who lost his right arm fighting with the 442nd and was one of the honorees Wednesday.

About 1,250 people attended the award ceremony at the Capitol. About a quarter of those present were former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s. Hiroshi Kaku, originally from Hawaii, served in the 442nd and his older brother, Haruo, served in the 100th. He said he volunteered for the Army because he had something to prove.

“We wanted to show American citizens that we loved our country,” Kaku said. “We were born and raised here.”

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were viewed with suspicion. Nearly 110,000 were sent to internment camps. Lawson Sakai learned how much the world had changed when he drove with some of his buddies to the local Navy recruiting station and tried to enlist. While his white friends were quickly accepted, Sakai was considered an “enemy alien” and could not join.

Sakai then watched as the FBI rounded up Japanese-American leaders in Los Angeles. When the federal government authorized the relocation of people with Japanese ancestry, a sister and some of his friends were sent to internment camps.

“We were blackballed,” Sakai said. “Basically, they took away our citizenship.”

Sakai’s story is similar to thousands of other “Nisei,” or second-generation Japanese-Americans. Even as they fought in Europe, many Japanese-American troops had family members who would spend much of the war in U.S. internment camps. American officials, citing concerns that those of Japanese ancestry could be security risks, sent men, women and children to camps around the country.

Sakai served in the 442nd, which consisted of volunteers, about two-thirds from Hawaii and the rest from the mainland. The 442nd experienced some of the most horrific fighting in Europe and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. In just 10 months of combat, more than 700 were killed or listed as missing in action.

Sakai, 88, was wounded four times and received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He said the years following the war were difficult and that he often drank to deal with his memories. Now, he said, he’s able to take pride in his peers’ accomplishments and the subsequent congressional recognition.

“We certainly deserved the record that we produced. It was done by shedding a lot of blood. As far as I know, we didn’t give up an inch of ground. We were always attacking and the Germans were always on the higher ground,” he said.

The 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. One of the units attached to the 442nd was the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was comprised exclusively of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii who had been drafted prior to Pearl Harbor. They received the nickname the Purple Heart Battalion because of the tremendous number of casualties they endured.

While undergoing training, Susumu Ito would visit his parents and two sisters 200 miles away at the Rohwer Internment Camp in Arkansas. Despite the injustice of being forced to relocate from Stockton, Calif., Ito said, his parents took great pride in their son fighting for the U.S. military. However, he ignored his mother’s request in her weekly letters to avoid hazardous duty. He said he wanted to be on the front lines, as did his peers. The motto of the 442nd was “go for broke.”

Ito said that mentality reflected the mindset of Japanese-Americans in general.

“This spirit of overcoming any objection was ingrained in my mind,” Ito said.

About 6,000 Japanese-Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service, on the front lines and behind the scenes, translating cables and interviewing prisoners of war. Many also served during the postwar occupation of Japan, providing a bridge between Japanese and American officials.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., accepted the medal on behalf of his father, Byron. Honda said his father was recruited from an internment camp in Colorado and worked stateside as a language instructor for the Military Intelligence Service. He said his father, who was a civilian member of the intelligent unit, taught him how to go about proving doubters wrong.

“He doubled down. He said, `Oh yeah, watch this,'” Honda said. “I think that was the prevailing attitude of a lot of the veterans.”

President Harry Truman welcomed home many of the Japanese-American soldiers in 1946: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won.”

George Washington was the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, in 1776. In recent years, Congress has honored athletes, astronauts and civil rights trailblazers. Lawmakers have also granted the award to the Tuskegee Airmen and to Native American code talkers who transmitted secret messages sent during World War II. The House also voted last month to give the first black Marines the Congressional Gold Medal.

Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Adam Schiff, both Democratic lawmakers from California, were the original co-sponsors of the legislation honoring the Japanese-American soldiers. The legislation was signed into law last year.

“You served our country despite being subjected to hurtful slurs and deep suspicions from many of your fellow citizens,” Boxer said. “While we can never repay the debt we owe you, we can and we must recognize your valor and your patriotism.”

Inouye was the final speaker. He already received the nation’s highest medal for valor, the Medal of Honor. He described the latest honor as heartwarming.

“More importantly, I’m certain those who are resting in cemeteries are pleased with this day,” he said.

442nd legacy takes Soldiers from ‘enemy aliens’ to heroes

Posted in Congressional Gold Medal, Honor Roll, Japanese American Incarceration tagged , , , , , , at 8:07 am by minidokapilgrimage

442nd legacy takes Soldiers from ‘enemy aliens’ to heroes

October 31, 2011

By Rob McIlvaine

Editor’s note: Japanese-American veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team will receive Bronze Stars Nov. 1 and Congressional Gold Medals Nov. 2 for their contributions during World War II. Three of these veterans tell their story:

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 28, 2011) — On Dec. 7, 1941, 5,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) had been drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.

With Executive Order 9066 in hand, though, Military Governor Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt decided to discharge all those Japanese Americans on the west coast and send them home. He was also responsible for forcing more than 115,000 persons of Japanese ancestry into relocation camps.


“The legacy (of what occurred over the following years of World War II) is very important in terms of present day,” said Terry Shima, executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association since 2004.

Shima joined the 442nd Infantry Regiment in 1945 in Italy, where he was assigned to public relations and when the unit returned in July 1946, he continued to handle public relations for the veterans association in New York, in Washington, D.C., and in Honolulu. Following two years in the Army, he worked for the Foreign Service for 30 years.

“In Hawaii, on the other hand, there were 1,432 Japanese Americans in the Hawaii Territory National Guard. And Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, the military governor, faced more immediate danger or threat of a land attack by Japan.

“What he did, very smartly, was to send the 1,142 Nisei to Wisconsin, to get them out of the way,” Shima said.

Subsequently, they were sent to the Italian front, as the 100th Infantry Battalion.

“Army senior leaders then decided to form a larger unit because a battalion-size (unit) did not achieve, I believe, their objective. They wanted a brigade-size, so they formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was a volunteer unit,” Shima said.

About 1,500 volunteered from the internment camps and 2,500 volunteered from Hawaii. They trained in Camp Shelby, Miss., and were shipped to Italy, where the 442nd and the 100th merged.

The 442nd was Europe, he said, and the Military Intelligence Service was in the Pacific. The MIS performed as important a job, relatively speaking, as the 442nd.

“On top of all of this would be the legacy,” Shima said. “What does this all mean to the Japanese Americans of the present day? The story is unbelievable. As General George C. Marshall (chief of Staff of the Army, secretary of State and the third Secretary of Defense) said “all of the European commanders had asked for the 442nd to be on their team,” indicating the quality of combat strength that the Japanese Americans provided.”

On the Pacific side, 60 Japanese Americans were already in training with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service, but when war broke out and many of their families were incarcerated, not one of them decided to quit.


During World War II, 6,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) served in the Military Intelligence Service, performing secret intelligence work against the Japanese military. Their work dispelled any doubt that as Americans the Nisei were willing to fight an enemy with whom they shared a similar ancestral background.

“It was in November when the recruiters from MIS came (to Gila River, Ariz, Internment Camp) and they tested my language. I guess I passed because they asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the Army and I said I sure would but I should get my parents’ approval. I ran back and twisted their arm and got their approval,” said Ichikawa, who’s now 92 years old.

Ichikawa had recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in accounting when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I trained as an accountant, but in California nobody was hiring a Japanese-American accountant, so I decided to be a fruit farmer with my father. He had years and years of experience, so we found a very good lease, but this farm did not have any equipment, so we had to borrow money and invest in a tractor and truck, spray wagon, and we started pruning the trees,” he said.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, his parents, who were Japanese citizens, assumed they would be interned.

“I didn’t even give it a thought because I was an American. Why should I be interned? So I went merrily on my way and then in the following year around April or May, I learned that I would have to go too, so I had to get rid of the farm.

“I was mad . I was very disappointed, it hurt me quite a bit because here I was a college graduate, I was a loyal American, I had never been to Japan, and for them to treat me like an enemy-alien was devastating,” Ichikawa said.

He considers his generation to be the greatest generation of Japanese Americans.

“We were initially labeled enemy-aliens and many of us volunteered to fight for the U.S. Army and we offered our lives to prove we are loyal American citizens,” he said.

During World War II, he said, about 800 Japanese Americans gave their lives to prove they were loyal Americans.

“We have turned whatever discrimination people had against us, by our service in the Army, so at the end of World War II, there was no more discrimination. Today, our kids have no problem finding any job they want. Like my son, Bryan, he’s a pretty high official in his company. Those things did not happen in my generation, so it was our service that erased discrimination for not only us, but all Asian Americans,” he said.

Ichikawa was discharged in 1947 as a second lieutenant with the infantry, but was recalled during the Korean War.

“When the Korean War started, they were recalling all inactive infantry officers, so my name was in there, but I told them I’m not an infantry officer, I’m an intelligence officer. I know nothing about infantry. They said to do as the Army ordered.”

Ichikawa did as the Army ordered, but said he still felt discriminated against.

While serving, though, he worked with some members of the CIA and was asked to join.

“When I joined the CIA, they treated me like anybody else. Early in the game they gave me jobs that were supervisory. I felt very comfortable with their organization, so I was able to get good promotions,” he said, and continued to serve in a variety of assignments up through Vietnam.

“In 1975 when Vietnam fell, and I was evacuated from the embassy rooftop, I went and got on an aircraft carrier and saw the tremendous 7th Fleet in the Pacific,” he recalled. “We lost about 50,000 Americans who died for Vietnam and for the United States to give up when we had that huge Navy just sitting outside of Vietnam while communists were coming down from the north, and for us to do nothing … ”

“The Marines were lined up, ready to shoot the enemy, but they were never given the go-ahead to do so,” he said. “They were itching to do something. They saw the enemy out in the open, streaming toward Saigon and we just didn’t do anything.”

As a result, he said, the Vietnamese suffered a lot, some couldn’t evacuate, and many stayed behind and spent years in jail.

“I was so disgusted that I came back and found out I could retire without losing anything, so I did. I was mad at the U.S. government at that time,” he said. “But I’m retired now, there’s no reason to me mad.”


On Dec. 10, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Mitsuo Hamasu received his draft notice.

“I was working as a carpenter’s helper with my Uncle George Tashiro on the Big Island of Hawaii at the time.”

His uncle laughed, saying, “You’re only five feet tall. You’re too short to become a G.I.”

He went to Honokaa Hospital for his physical and passed with flying colors.

“Doctor Okada pronounced me in A-1 shape, and I was in the Army. My identification number was 30100598. My friends and neighbors congratulated me for being among the first to be a Soldier. I congratulated my friends who had also joined.”

The Army shipped them to Schofield Barracks on Oahu for basic training. Upon completion, the recruits were shipped back to Kamuela on the Big Island as part of the 299th Hawaiian Infantry Regiment. Hamasu became a rifleman in Company F of the Hawaii National Guard. They trained on the Big Island and carried out guard duty at the Hilo Airport.

“It was morning on Dec. 7, 1941,” he said. “I was on guard duty at the airport. We received a phone call saying that Pearl Harbor was attacked, bombed by Japanese planes. At first, I did not believe it. Another phone call confirmed the fact.”

“Mainland troops replaced us as guards at the airport three months later. Our Company deployed to a defensive position along the Hilo coast. We erected a gun opposition on South Point in case the enemy tried another attack,” he said.

In April 1942, Company F received new orders. The riflemen of Japanese ancestry were to turn in all arms and ammunition, and assemble in the Company area. The announcement came down that they would be shipped to an unknown destination and without being allowed to tell anyone, not even family.

“Quietly, about a month later, our segregated group of Nisei Soldiers embarked on a ship from Hilo to Honolulu and Schofield Barracks, then again in June from Honolulu to Oakland. We did not know it at the time, but we were headed to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. We were 1,432 men, A,B,C,D,E & F companies of infantrymen, one battalion and two extra companies strong. They named our outfit the “100th Infantry Battalion,” or “One Puka Puka” in Hawaiian,” he said.

At Camp McCoy, they lived in tents until it became cool. As winter approached, they were moved to barracks with heated quarters, running water and hot showers. When the first big snow fell, “we all ran out barefooted, making our first snow balls and throwing them at each other,” he said.

“In February 1943, we were moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. We thought the Army was moving us to be in a warmer climate. Instead, we were being tested in the Louisiana Maneuvers. The maneuvers lasted for months. When we returned to Camp Shelby, we met our younger brothers of the 442nd,” Hamasu said.


“The Japanese Americans fought against people of their own racial ancestry with everything that they had. They were accused by Japanese officers who were prisoners, as traitors of Japan,” Shima said.

On the July 15, 1946, President Harry Truman reviewed the 442nd and confirmed their loyalty.
“You fought the enemy abroad and you fought prejudice at home and you won,” he said.

“That, to me, is a signal that the highest authority of the land has confirmed their loyalty because the reason that the Nisei fought with such intensity was for only one reason, and that was to prove their loyalty, because they were accused of being saboteurs and collaborators of the enemy,” Shima said.

The highest rank of a Japanese American during World War II, he said, was a major and there were only four.

“But in the Vietnam War, you would find them in every branch of service in the most sensitive war-planning positions, in the cockpits of fighters and bombers as pilots and navigators. During World War II, we had five Nisei serving as gunners in bombers. They were proud of their service,” he said.

In Vietnam, he said, 35 served in the cockpits of fighters and bombers as pilots and navigators, and five became guests at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp.

After Vietnam, he said, 43 Japanese Americans would be promoted to generals and admirals, while another 60 Asian-Pacific Americans would reach flag rank. All this is a result of what the Tuskegee Airmen and the 442nd helped produce, he said.

“On the civilian side, there would be equally impressive reforms,” he said. “One was repeal of discriminatory laws, especially along the west coast states. And in 1952 alien Japanese could apply for U.S. citizenship … a great accomplishment.”

In August of 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was passed and President Ronald Reagan offered the nation’s formal apology for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“And of course, more recently, the U.S. Senate selected from amongst their group a Japanese American to serve as president pro tempore of the United States Senate,” Shima said, adding that’s a position that puts him, constitutionally, third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

“Only 70 years ago, this same Japanese American (Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii) was given draft classification 4-C, which stood for enemy alien, unfit for military duty. So, what I’m saying is that we have come a long way,” Shima said.

“This is an American story and it speaks to the greatness of this nation.”

November 1, 2011

Pilgrimage Reflection by Casey Jones

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Civil Liberties Symposium, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , at 1:37 pm by minidokapilgrimage

Pilgrimage Reflection by Casey Jones


I want to first express the gratitude that I feel toward the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee and all who contributed to the Seattle University Scholarship that is allowing me to be part of remembering and maintaining a painful but important part of history.  My thanks will likely multiply as I delve further into the pilgrimage itself.  The possibility of attending the pilgrimage, however, would not have been were it not for their efforts in general, and the generosity they have shown me in particular.

Preparing for the pilgrimage to Minidoka started when a friend who had gone encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to go myself.  Since before I even applied, the process has drawn on so many facets of my thinking and feeling that I have become dizzy at times reeling from the immensity of the prospect and its profound significance.  I have known and talked about the incarceration since middle school, when the sense of familiarity and interest that led me to Asian Studies at Seattle University was born.  For a long time I hit cold, silent walls of unawareness and apathy towards the prejudice and pain manifest in the injustice of the expulsion and imprisonment of the Japanese-American communities on the west coast.  Even now, as I tell family members and friends of my plans for early July, I am confronted by one or both of two legacies: a lack of awareness stemming from the absence of the incarceration from general historical education and insistent defense of Executive Order 9066.  Explaining the racism and civil injustice behind the incarceration is painfully frustrating at times, like talking to fences of barbed wire.

There is much that I wish to learn from this year’s pilgrimage to Minidoka; there is much more that I hope to feel.  Learning more about the direct experiences of incarceration, I hope to have a greater capacity for explaining how wrong it was.  I want to have a firmer foundation for discussion and advocacy that branch into current manifestations of prejudice, and the glossing-over of injustice in such a way that makes possible its repetition.  Going to Minidoka and participating in its educational and anecdotal programming, I know that I will have both a greater knowledge to spread to others and greater confidence in that knowledge.  A large component of my preparation for the trip, and an internal struggle as well, is what I expect to feel while there.  Here I must admit that I am something of an outsider to the community’s historical experience of racism and the ramifications of incarceration.  I have been privileged, in a sense, to be free of the pain associated with this past; as someone with white skin, there are different issues that I have with incarceration and how I situate myself with relation to it and the people it has more directly affected.  Nonetheless, I expect to be emotionally reeling for some time after the trip is over; I feel too close to the Japanese-American community and its past for this not to happen.  And, to a degree, I think the shock will be appropriate.  I can never know what it was like to be imprisoned in a country that I considered my home, the rights so much a part of my identity stripped, and my identity itself attacked.  What I can do, however, is strive to get as near it as I can empathetically, and keep the weight of Minidoka in my heart as a reminder of what I care about and who I am; at once removed from and tied to this community’s past, present, and (if permitted) future.  Going to the place where so many were forced to live in uncertainty, their homes and lifestyles taken from them, I want to get closer to them.  I already feel this past as part of me, and now I want to know it better, now I want to serve it better in what I know and say of it.  Most importantly, I want to approach the feeling of Minidoka at the site, so that the passion and personal reality, rather than the pallid historical “facts” are what I return speaking.


The pilgrimage to Minidoka was too tremendous and profound for me to believe that I will understand its ramifications fully for some time to come.  I learned much, as I had hoped to; I felt much, as I had hoped to.  But among the learning and feeling with which I had hoped to return from that sacred and infamous place, I find hungry emptiness reawakened and made keener.  It was my great joy to form the first tenuous threads of friendship with fellow pilgrims, my great honor to hear the stories of family and personal histories tied to incarceration.  The trip as a whole was, as I remarked to several, a bitter sweet affair.  Bitter in the way of something ugly brought to light and examined, its full weight no longer veiled by the fog of everyday dissociation.  Bitter in the sense that the pride one takes in the numerous expressions of strength embodied by Japanese-American incarcerees is matched by sorrow for the fact that such strength was so unjustly made necessary.  Sweet for the friendships and sharing of thoughts and the hope for future honors to those who lived this history and allowed us to be the survivors of it.  Sweet in the stirring up of ideas and courage, to challenge a continuing legacy of racism systemic to a country the foundation of which holds so much promise otherwise.  There is no hotel at the corner where these two feelings meet, but there is a community, there is a past, and there is a future.

To offer a few thoughts that have stricken me most powerfully in the week since returning, I want to share with the reader a few events that capture them.  I am sure others could speak better or would have better things to say, but I will do my best with what I can offer.

Minidoka is a sacred place.  Stepping off of the bus at the entrance to Minidoka National Historic Site, the sun beating down hot from a sky bereft of familiar clouds, I noted how quiet the place seemed despite the throng that had just arrived.  The land here was not the hostile desert of which I had read and heard; a fertile swath of farmland had long since been born of the determination of the incarcerees (only to be taken from them when it was time to give the land to returning white soldiers).  Meandering about the entrance, I walked to what was once a visitor’s center and found there an engraving of the names of those who had been imprisoned at Minidoka but given their lives to protect the nation that had put them and their families there.  Soon other pilgrims found their way together, and I was soon caught up in the Shinto ceremony of which I had heard before leaving Seattle.  Being a fledgling adherent, I wanted to honor the spirits of those who were imprisoned, especially those who never left.  The reading of each name on the placard, giving honor to each soul that had faced the uncertainty of an American concentration camp and persevered so boldly, set a reverent tone for the rest of my time at the site.  Perhaps the greatest lesson for those of us born after incarceration is a mindfulness of the past and present personhood of those who were there.  Many walked the earth that I trod at Minidoka, each with a complex life and spirit, each with unique but shared pain and hope in confinement.  We honor them by remembering this to the level of intrinsic, intuitive knowledge.  We honor them by speaking against the hurts that they faced, and in challenging the potential for reiterations thereof.

Minidoka is plural.  Two excellent films at the symposium on Civil Rights at the College of Southern Idaho must be plugged here for their worth in understanding the various ways in which the community encountered overwhelming wickedness with admirable strength.  Honor Bound produced by Ms. Wendy Hanamura highlights the valor of the young men who fought for the country that had turned so viciously on them and their families.  It chronicles the strength of their determination to serve community and country, challenging racism with their deeds despite what might be seen as the government’s exploitation and under-acknowledgment of the all-Japanese 442nd and 100th.  Frank Abe’s Conscience and the Constitution tells a different story of strength, exploring the courage of resistors to military service and the unequivocal loyalty demanded by a racist US government.  It portrays the passion of these young men and their endurance of suppression from concentration camp authorities and their own community alike.  The discussion incorporated the role of women in military service and the too-often taboo topic of those dubbed “No-No Boys”.  Though these stories are, for various reasons, derided and underplayed, they are no less crucial to understanding, and thus honoring, the experience of life in the camps.  There is great pain in the incarceration itself, even more demarcated along lines of separation within the community to this day.  It may be a long process to reconcile these various ways of challenging the events of the early 1940’s, but it is no less worthwhile for the fact.  It is no less important due to the challenge it poses.

Minidoka is not the end.  On the bus ride home, before we even left Idaho, an original propaganda piece by the US government was screened.  It struck several strings of discussion that I believe to be important for Minidoka to be truly meaningful.  As one pilgrim said to me “What you know isn’t enough.  What you feel isn’t enough.  What do you do?”  Learning and feeling from the pilgrimage are important, but they must be part of a greater movement toward action if their meaning is to reach fruition.  We cannot accept the obfuscation of incarceration histories (emphasis on plural) and the reiterations on the theme of racism sewn subtlely into the fabric of the US promises of liberty, justice, and equality.  I mentioned in my pre-pilgrimage reflection the concept of “talking to fences of barbed wire.”  These fences remain around us in the paradigms that allowed physical incarceration to be forced on the Issei and Nisei.  Though we do not have to feel the fear and betrayal that they did, we and others remain the targets of racism fueled by state power and popular unawareness.  These fences will continue to constrict this and other communities unless we recognize and oppose the patterns of separation and confinement in service to dominant interests and force.  We must stay rooted in the feeling and knowing of Minidoka, but we must carry these with us into the future and into partnerships with others willing to work for change.

Once more I want to thank those who made this affecting experience a reality for me.  Thank you, my fellow pilgrims, for the wisdom, stories, and conversations you shared.  Thank you also, reader, for tolerating what may not always be a perfect article, and one that is certainly longer than my skill merits, though too short for what needs saying.

Quiet and Honor at Minidoka National Historic Site

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Honor Roll, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , , , at 1:25 pm by minidokapilgrimage

Quiet and Honor at Minidoka National Historic Site

By National Trust for Historic Preservation on July 11th, 2011

Written by Sheri Freemuth

Historic photo of Minidoka's honor roll of service members. (Photo: Friends of Minidoka)Historic photo of Minidoka’s honor roll of service members. (Photo: Friends of Minidoka)

The wind often hides the quiet of south central Idaho, just as the broad expanse of irrigated crops can mask the rugged lava rock and sagebrush land. The passage of time has also obscured evidence of four years of incarceration for over 10,000 Japanese Americans at the Minidoka Relocation Center, or Hunt Camp, now known as the Minidoka National Historic Site.

But this Independence Day weekend there was no rustle of wind or hissing of pivot sprinklers to distract the participants in the 9th annual Minidoka pilgrimage. As in years past, pilgrims saw the dark lava stones near the banks of the Northside Canal, the old entrance road and the ruins of the historic waiting room. For the first time, pilgrims saw other traces of the camp delicately revealed by the National Park Service (NPS), along with new interpretive signs along a 1.6 mile walking trail. These signs were a reminder to those who bore witness (and there were some original incarcerees among the pilgrims), and offered fresh insights to visitors who do not recall World War II nor the many painful sacrifices it entailed.

The most striking addition to the site, the focus of the Sunday morning ceremony, is a large triptych signbearing the names of all who served in the military during World War II from the Minidoka Relocation Center. Made possible by the diligence of the Friends of Minidoka and a grant from the NPS, it is a replica of the Honor Roll initially erected by camp incarcerees in a personal and deliberate display of patriotism.

The ribbon-cutting for the replica of the Honor Roll, July 3, 2011. (Photo: National Park Service)The ribbon-cutting for the replica of the Honor Roll, July 3, 2011. (Photo: National Park Service)

With the installation it is also possible to see the outline of the original Victory Garden, whose design is attributed to Fujitara Kubota, who was incarcerated at Minidoka with his family (the mastery of Kubota can be seen today in the public Kubota Garden in Seattle). At Minidoka, only the embedded lava rock that lines a “V” shaped pathway and outcroppings of carefully placed boulders are hints of what the original garden may have included.

The three large buses of this year’s participants in the pilgrimage, many coming from Washington’s Puget Sound area, were joined by local friends and partners to acknowledge the dedication of those that work tirelessly to preserve and enhance the Minidoka National Historic Site. I was pleased to be a part of the group gathered on Sunday and honored to work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has endeavored to ensure a bright future for this historic site, one that it richly deserves.

Most of all, though, the Sunday morning ceremony honored the bravery of those who served in World War II, particularly the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit in the US Army. Comprised solely of Japanese Americans, this unit became the most highly-decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces for their size and length of service. Minidoka provided 25 percent of the volunteers that served in the unit.

The testimony, the tears and the laughter of Sunday morning were captured best by Brooks Andrews, retired pastor and son of Seattle Pastor Emory “Andy” Andrews, who left Seattle for Idaho when his congregation, the Japanese Baptist Church, was uprooted to Minidoka. Brooks provided the invocation saying:

“We gather today to remember, honor and pay tribute….to the dedication and integrity of our young Nisei and the greatness that came, not from worldly assessment, but from an uncommon greatness that came from the quietness and serenity of the soul.”

Sheri Freemuth is a Program Officer for the Western Office. She resides in Boise, Idaho.

Reflections on Minidoka

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Civil Liberties Symposium, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , at 1:03 pm by minidokapilgrimage

Reflections on Minidoka

by: Antoinette M. Spillers

On June 30th-July 3rd, I had the opportunity to visit a horrific and shameful part of our nation’s history, participating in the 9th Annual Pilgrimage to the Minidoka Concentration Camp. The Minidoka Pilgrimage was one of the most powerful, educational and life-changing journey I have ever endured. This trip challenged my understanding and perspective on the teachings of American history, realization of my emotional connections to this past, and my role as a change agent to educate others and prevent such heinous crimes from re-occurring. I was exposed to the realities that many Japanese Americans endured before, during and after living in the incarceration camps. It’s very dishearten the more I learned about our country’s history, the more pain and shame this country has brought upon itself. This trip further my understanding that each demographic group as endured many challenges and oppression in this country, but instead of allowing further separation, we should use our unique stories to connect us as a nation, for the betterment of the human race.

My studies of the incarceration camps began as a junior in high school, while conducting research on Japanese Americans in Internment Camps during World War II, for my English class research paper. During my research, I discovered information about the 442nd Infantry Regiment and the 100th Battalion, both consisted of men who volunteer to fight for this country, as proof of their loyalty and pride. I am astounded, as by the amount of sacrifices many people have given to a country to have oppressed and discriminated against them since the founding of our nation; this complex love-hate relationship many of us experience with this country. Since high school, I have been eager to learn more about the incarceration camps and to gain a better understanding of the teaching techniques of American history. I constantly wonder about the multitude of stories that are erased from our history book; concealing America’s shameful past and ignorance. There are many more stories out there, in which I am eager to uncover our past, seek out the millions of untold stories and learn more about the other concentration campus in our nation.

During the bus trip to Idaho, we watched movies and documentaries about the many experiences and stories from the concentration camps. I was extremely appalled to learn many families were forced to live in horse stables prior to relocating to the incarceration camps. It is a tragedy that our government treated human beings like animals, placing them in horse stables, expecting them to living comfortably. In addition, American citizens were removed from their home with uncertainties; families were unsure about their relocation area, the location of other family members, and no legitimate reasons for the massive evacuation orders (Being that we were also at war with Germany and Italy, but no European Americans were order to relocate). When I heard these stories, I sense the pain and trauma because I know the feeling of evacuating with many uncertainties. These stories resurface many emotions I endured during my evacuation in August 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, whereas my city received a mandatory evacuation on short-notice on a Sunday morning. When comparing the two events, it seems as if history did repeat itself, but for different reasons. It is still painful to know that thousands were forced out of their homes, places into massive, unsanitary living quarters for matters out of their control. Many of us share those pains and struggle of losing everything you worked hard for; obtaining the American Dream and suddenly, that dream was stolen. It is very hurtful to have your life earnings taken away, but these shared emotions will bring us together, as humans, as a nation.

During the Pilgrimage, I learned many other untold stories, such as the No-no, men who decided not to volunteer for the war, the Women Army Corps and the most dangerous battles the 442nd Infantry and the 100th Battalion were sent to combat in order to save other American soldiers. During the midst of battles, the U.S. government persisted in their discriminatory practices, by sacrificing hundreds of Japanese American soldiers in deadly battlefields to save white American soldiers, establishing a segregated military unit for Japanese Americans and sustaining the segregated African-American units. I also learned the government reasons for sending Japanese Americans to these deserted camps, placing them on desert, uncultivated land, so they can cultivate the land into farmland, which supplied food for the soldiers and other citizens. When the camps were closed, the land was given to other veterans, not the people who cultivated the land. It is dishearten to learn about these stories of oppression, yet these same stories are reminders of the importance of sharing and preserving history. By sharing the truth, we learned how to prevent these discriminatory events from re-occurring. These untold stories provided an in-depth understanding of my place in serving as an agent of change to, expand and preserve citizens civil rights and liberties.

When I moved to Seattle a year ago, I realize my new location will provided exposure to another aspect of history, something different from the southern history I grew-up learning. Many local residents explained the location of the Japanese Town and Little Tokyo that existed in Seattle and other parts of the country, but after the incarceration campus, many of those communities never returned. The Minidoka Concentration Camp was occupied from August 1942-October 1945, but those few years forever changed the lives, cultural and family structure of many Japanese American families in the Pacific Northwest. There is much trauma many have suffered living in these facilities, but I am thankful for those who are able to remember and  share their stories, teaching us and preserving history with the next generation. I know Japanese American history did not start, nor will it end with the concentration camps.

There have been many recent discussions about another potential incarceration and relocation of American Citizens, but I hope our society will take a greater stand and speaking out against these injustices in our nation. Each ethnic group endures their only challenges and pains, but when we began to put our differences aside and realize how we as humans have suffered, we begin to move forward in working for a better, more just society.

In the words of Mark Twain, “History never repeats itself, at best it sometimes rhymes.” After attending the Minidoka Pilgrimage, I assure you history will not repeat nor will it rhyme, and I am ever more grateful to learn and share these remarkable stories with others.

Thank you for this opportunity.