February 19, 2015

The day Japanese Americans lost their rights

Posted in Day of Remembrance, Friends of Minidoka, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, News tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:15 pm by rkozu

http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2025728913_furugoriopedinternment19xml.html

Originally published February 18, 2015 at 6:02 PM | Page modified February 19, 2015 at 12:52 PM

Guest: The day Japanese Americans lost their rights

Gordon Hirabayashi believed the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans was unconstitutional — and he went to prison for his belief, writes guest columnist Esther Toshiko Hirabayashi Furugori.

By Esther Toshiko Hirabayashi Furugori

Special to The Times

Thursday marks the 73rd anniversary of an American day of infamy. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set in motion the forced removal of my family from our Auburn-area home, joining the exile of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to American concentration camps.

My family was first forcibly removed in crowded, hot trains to Fresno, Calif., arriving at a stark place surrounded by barbed wire fences called Pinedale Assembly Center. A month later, we were transported by bus to the Tule Lake Relocation Center in Northern California.

Conditions were harsh at both locations. Crammed into open ceiling “apartments” no larger than 20 by 25 feet, no conversation or movement was private. Everyone was forced to adjust to a culturally uncomfortable reality of sharing everything from meals in mess halls to humiliating communal showers and latrines with no privacy dividers.

I was just 13, and my family kept me busy playing softball, reading Nancy Drew novels and enjoying music. Looking back, perhaps they wanted to distract me from thinking about my brother, Gordon Hirabayashi, who wasn’t with us. He was in prison.

Before our forced removal, the entire Pacific Coast was under a federally imposed curfew for Japanese Americans. Gordon was attending the University of Washington and he strongly believed that this curfew and Executive Order 9066 were unconstitutional.

Deliberately staying out past the curfew, Gordon turned himself in to police and demanded that he be arrested. The police officers knew Gordon and told him to go home, but he persisted and was arrested by the FBI, tried and found guilty of violating the curfew. With no transportation paid for by the government, Gordon refused to pay his own way to go to prison in Arizona, so he decided to hitchhike.

Gordon also refused to be sent to the concentration camps or serve in the military, spending nearly two years in different prisons while appealing his curfew verdict. Eventually in 1943, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled against him.

Gordon’s principled stand was both unusual and lonely. Hardly anyone stood up for civil rights in the 1940s like they did in the 1960s, and most people in the Japanese-American community — let alone the nation at large — disagreed with his views as being unpatriotic and criticized him for making things harder by “rocking the boat.”

Forty years after his Supreme Court verdict, the U.S. District Court in Seattle overturned Gordon’s conviction. Blockbuster evidence was uncovered that the federal government deliberately withheld important military documents from his Supreme Court case, disclosing that racial reasons and not military necessity were used to justify the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

After the war, Gordon earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology from the University of Washington, enjoyed a successful academic career and received many awards including our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Among all of his accomplishments, I’m most proud of my brother for his courage to protest the unbridled use of power by our government during times of fear, war hysteria and racial prejudice, and, since Sept. 11, 2001, I suspect that Gordon wouldn’t mind if I added religious intolerance to that list.

Gordon died on Jan. 2, 2012. To ensure that his story lives on and inspires generations to come, our family is honored that the permanent Legacy of Justice installations of public art and interpretive elements will be the cornerstone of the mixed-use Hirabayashi Place project currently under construction in Seattle’s Chinatown International District.

“I never looked at my case as my own, or just as a Japanese-American case,” Gordon said in reference to his overturned conviction. “It is an American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.”

Esther Toshiko Hirabayashi Furugori is a charter member of the Hirabayashi Place Legacy of Justice Committee.

March 23, 2014

Dr. Frank Kitamoto, 74, Japanese-American leader dies

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Friends of Minidoka, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , at 9:09 am by minidokapilgrimage

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Dr. Frank Kitamoto, 74, Japanese-American leader dies

Dr. Frank Kitamoto, a leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-American community, who spread awareness about Japanese internment camps, died of kidney and heart complications March 15 at a Seattle hospital. He was 74.

March 22, 2014

By Paige Cornwell
Seattle Times staff reporter

Frank Kitamoto sits next to a plaque at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.
COURTESY THE KITAMOTO FAMILY, 2008
Frank Kitamoto sits next to a plaque at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

When Japanese Americans returned home after being incarcerated in internment camps during World War II, no one wanted to talk about their experiences. It was too painful. They wanted to move on.

Determined to ensure that what his community experienced would never happened again, Frank Kitamoto broke that silence.

Dr. Kitamoto, a dentist, was a leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-American community, who spread awareness about Japanese internment camps, died March 15 at a Seattle hospital. He was 74.

He died of heart and kidney complications, according to his sister Lilly Kodama, of Bainbridge Island.

Frank Kitamoto was 2½ years old in 1942 when he, his mother and three sisters were sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. His father had already been rounded up by the FBI for questioning; he joined the family later.

The Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island were the first group in Washington to be taken to the internment camps, Dr. Kitamoto said during an interview with Idaho Public Television in 2007. The Kitamoto family stayed in Manzanar for 11 months, then they were transferred to Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho.

Dr. Kitamoto’s earliest memories were from the camps, so, he said, he didn’t know what he was missing then. Later, he realized how difficult it must have been for the adults. He remembered spit-wad fights with other children and getting trampled at the end of the Miss Minidoka contest. When he was 5, he stole cigarettes from his dad’s dresser and smoked the whole pack, he told the television interviewer. Afterward, he was sick for a week.

“But I did give up smoking when I was 5 years old,” he said. “I remember that.”

Dr. Kitamoto was 5 when his family returned to Bainbridge Island near the end of the war. He struggled with identity, said Gerald Elfendahl, who met him in the early 1980s when they worked together on an exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where Elfendahl was the curator.

“After World War II, there was such a strong social pressure for the Japanese to assimilate and not share their culture,” Elfendahl said. “He didn’t think it was good to be Japanese,” Dr. Kitamoto told him.

That changed when Dr. Kitamoto realized the public needed to hear about their experiences, Kodama said. When he tried to interview those who had been interned, some members of the community viewed him as an “angry young man who was rocking the boat,” said Clarence Moriwaki, who met Dr. Kitamoto in 1998 when Dr. Kitamoto was president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.

“There were 120,000 stories, and all their stories are different, “Moriwaki said. “Some have spent their whole time trying to forget it. Talking about it picks at that scab, and it’s painful. Frank did understand that, but he wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”

Dr. Kitamoto worked with others to create an oral-history project, which he presented to students in Washington and across the nation. When Dr. Kitamoto’s exhibits and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial were completed, the same men who initially had been opposed came forward, Kodama said.

“They told Frank they were sure glad he didn’t pay any attention to them,” Kodama said.

Dr. Kitamoto had a successful dental practice on Bainbridge Island. In his offices, there were rooms filled with heirlooms donated to him by Japanese-American families. It must have driven his wife, Sharon, crazy, Moriwaki said, but she also recognized how important the items were.

“The artifacts were all over the place, and yet he felt these were important to save,” Moriwaki said. “He knew those pieces weren’t junk, they were somebody’s story.”

In addition to his sister, Lilly, survivors include Dr. Kitamoto’s wife, Sharon, and son Derek, both of Bainbridge Island, and sister Frances Ikegami of Bremerton.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com

January 14, 2012

Northwest Nisei soldiers honored for WWII service

Posted in 442nd RCT, Congressional Gold Medal, Japanese American Incarceration tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:55 pm by minidokapilgrimage

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Northwest Nisei soldiers honored for WWII service

On Saturday, in a ceremony with speeches, music and other tributes, 90 Nisei soldiers from the Pacific Northwest were given honors for their World War II service.

By Nancy Bartley

Seattle Times staff reporter

William Yasutake was a prisoner, along with his parents, when he decided to fight for the country that held them merely because they were Nisei — Japanese Americans.

Other Nisei were shot in battle, charged through minefields, translated documents and performed such wartime heroics as part of the U.S. Army 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service that they became legendary — a fighting force sought throughout the war.

On Saturday, in a ceremony with speeches, music and other tributes, 90 Nisei soldiers from the Pacific Northwest were given honors for their World War II service.

Eighteen were awarded the Bronze Star for valor and all 90 received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award.

The awards came more than a year after President Obama signed legislation to collectively honor the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Japanese Americans serving in the Military Intelligence Service.

Sporting burgundy caps with Nisei emblems, they sat solemnly on the stage at Meany Theater at the University of Washington, some clutching canes, all now in their 80s and 90s.

The auditorium was packed with family and friends who rose for a standing ovation as Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli introduced the group, and U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, and Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, called them heroes who changed the course of history.

“Most of us can’t imagine the bigotry following the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Chiarelli said. The Nisei “were under a heavy cloud of suspicion, yet … they volunteered to serve not knowing if their country would accept them again.”

After the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, suddenly friends and neighbors — especially on the West Coast — considered those with Japanese ancestry as possible enemies. In the name of national security they were rounded up and imprisoned in camps. Yasutake and his family, from Seattle, were among them.

At first, Japanese Americans weren’t allowed to join the military. That later changed, and some Nisei — a Japanese word meaning “second generation” — were drafted from the internment camps, while others volunteered. Yasutake was one of the volunteers.

Now 89, and a Bothell resident, he speaks about the war days reluctantly. He was a medic who was wounded but still cared for others. He received two Bronze Stars for combat in Italy and France.

“You don’t think much of it at the time. It came naturally. You worry more about the others than you do yourself,” he said after the ceremony.

Some of the veterans had already been honored in a November ceremony in Washington, D.C., but the majority had not. So Seattle’s Nisei Veterans’ Committee sponsored the ceremony, not just for the veterans but so the local community could be made aware of their accomplishments, said Stanley Shikuma, a committee member.

For family members, the ceremony was a moving tribute.

“I’m just very proud,” said Steven Chihara, who saw his grandfather, Tosh Chihara, receive a gold medal. “I had heard about the things they had to go through back then. It’s hard to imagine it today.”

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.