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Remember, that it may not happen again

Shinto priest Koichi Barrish blesses the land at the former Eagledale dock where Japanese-Americans departed for wartime internment camps in 1942.  - Julie Busch photo
Shinto priest Koichi Barrish blesses the land at the former Eagledale dock where Japanese-Americans departed for wartime internment camps in 1942.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

The internment memorial site is consecrated during a community gathering.

At the exact moment that 227 islanders of Japanese descent were herded onto a ferry bound for internment camps 64 years before, almost as many islanders gathered at the same Eagledale spot Thursday to consecrate the land.

Joined by detainees who still remember their three-plus years in exile, representatives of various faiths, community members and dignitaries stood with heads bowed in prayer and contemplation, honoring what happened before and what, they all agreed, must never happen again to anyone.

“This is a living memorial,” said Clarence Moriwaki, chair of the island’s WWII Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial Committee. “Like Plymouth Rock and Kitty Hawk, it is an important first place” honoring those who endured the humiliation of internment with dignity and strength.

The ceremony took place at the site of the former Eagledale ferry landing at the end of Taylor Avenue, where construction begins next week on a memorial to the internment.

The event was organized by the Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council, which seven years ago proposed creating a memorial to honor the first Americans of Japanese ancestry to be forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in internment camps.

The dedication featured remarks from Donna Mohr, president of the council; the Rev. Brooks Andrews of the Japanese Baptist Church; Gilberto Perez of the Bainbridge Buddhist temple; Hisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington; Rabbi Mark Glickman of Congregation Kol Shalom; Koichi Barrish of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America & Tsubaki Kannagara Jinja; and Jim Pratt, elder of the Suquamish Tribe.

After reading an entry from an internee’s diary, Mohr said, “The memorial helps all of us ensure that the facts...will not disappear.”

Also in attendance was Jerry Hebert of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Hebert presented a plaque inscribed with a resolution that recognizes the wrong that was done and offered an apology on behalf of the commission.

“The next important step,” he said, “is education.”

Barrish traveled from Granite Falls to “purify this land and pacify the spirit of the land and the people who moved across it.”

Clutching fronds from a nearby ancient cedar – designating them a piece of living history – the crowd hushed as he walked to several areas, offering prayers and sanctifying the land with holy offerings.

Pratt, the last living great-great-grandson of Chief Seattle, gave blessings the Suquamish Tribe and sang a song in honor of the site. Adding a bit of levity, he said, “This is the first time I’ve done it solo, so you have your chance to run.”

Beating a drum and speaking in his native language and in English, he repeated the message “Let it not happen again” and said, “Bless this land. I honor all people. I prayed for your safe journey here and your safe journey to your sacred home.”

Memories

Brooks recounted memories of growing up in the Japanese Baptist Church, for which his father was pastor from 1929 to 1955.

After Bainbridge’s citizens were removed, the Brooks family relocated to Camp Harmony – aka the Puyallup fairgrounds – a temporary holding camp for internees. He recalled his father being grilled for three years by the FBI for his associations and seeing his church close because of bigotry and hysteria.

The family relocated to Idaho, Brooks said, to minister to an internment camp. He wondered why soldiers in the towers pointed their guns inward, if they were there to protect those incarcerated.

“I offer God’s blessings of this place, a place of contemplation and healing,” he said. “Remember the past to give authenticity to the present.

“Walk quietly. Bend low. Listen to their whispers: never forget. Never forget.”

Drum in hand, Perez intoned a Buddhist prayer for world peace and added: “Reconciliation is the path of freedom now. Not generations from now.”

Farajallah explained that in the Koran, to remind is a duty.

“Remind and the people will remember, unless they do not want to remember...Discrimination does not come from religion. It comes from our own self, our own selfishness,” he said, before asking everyone to “take half a minute to ask God in our own way to not let it happen again.”

Glickman, the rabbi of Congregation Kol Shalom, spoke “as a representative of a people who had their own internment.”

People like Dr. Frank Kitamoto, who was in the audience, were the interned, he said.

“We can come here, own up and caution ourselves not to do it again,” Glickman said. “Here we are committed to the power of vision, glorious dreams. These visions are what saw us through. Dream of a day when our vision comes true.”

Looking at Kitamoto, he added, “You and the others here today are winning. All the rest of us are winning, too.”

Some attendees came because they knew members of families who were sent away; some, like fourth-generation islander Reid Hansen, came because they were at the dock as their friends and neighbors sailed away.

Fumi Hayashida, mother of Leonard Hayashida, the first baby born in the camps who passed away recently at age 63, said she enjoyed the dedication. Having spent three years in internment in Manzanar and Minidoka, she was happy the memorial is going to be built.

“We’re so glad so many people recognize and love us,” said Hayashida, who was born on Bainbridge Island. “We were all family. We knew everybody.”

“You are the queen,” Moriwaki told her.

“I am an old lady,” she replied, smiling.

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Park access

Construction of the Bainbridge Island Nikkei Japanese-American Memorial will begin at 7 a.m. April 3. For safety reasons, the Taylor Avenue access to Pritchard Park will be closed to pedestrians and vehicles until the work is completed.

Pedestrians may use two walking trails that lead into the park from Eagle Harbor Drive. Motorists should not park along Eagle Harbor Drive to access those trails.

During the construction period, they must access the park from the designated parking areas on Creosote Place. Signs will be posted along Eagle Harbor Drive to direct park visitors.

For more information call 842-2016.

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Monumental status

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, urging her to help make the Nidoto Nai Yoni, “Let it not happen again” memorial site part of the national park system.

The island’s WWII Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial Committee wants the land to be a designated satellite unit of the Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho. With this designation, the memorial would have federal protection.

These Bainbridge families were the first of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast – two-thirds of them United States citizens – to be forcibly removed from their homes for being Nikkei, people of Japanese ancestry. This action was executed by executive order 9066 under President Franklin Roosevelt. More than 114,000 citizens were sent to 10 internment camps; many of them lived in more than one camp during their time in exile.

A study Inslee spearheaded now is under review by the Interior Department and he wants Norton to expedite matters. If the study reports favorably on the former ferry dock site, Inslee will file legislation in the House for historic designation. He urged Norton to “process the study and send it to Congress with dispatch.”

“The vast majority of former Japanese-American internees have already passed away and the few remaining survivors are reaching advanced age and most are in declining health,” he wrote. “We not only owe it to them to give this memorial the status enjoyed by our nation’s most important places...We also owe it to our nation.”

To date, more than $2.1 million has been raised for the $5 million memorial project, which will feature a memorial wall, pavilion, interpretive center and a 150-foot dock to recognize the 150 internees who returned to Bainbridge. Construction star Monday on Taylor Road. The memorial should be completed in September.

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