Honor some real heroes
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:43 PM
"We're still not sure just what credentials put the Major in Major M.J. Hopkins. Some recall him to be a veteran of the Canadian or British military and the first Great War; others tell us he served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, armed not with a rifle but a slide rule.However he earned his rank, by the time World War II rolled around, the retired Major Hopkins wore ignorance on his lapel right next to his bars, as part of a cabal that tried to keep Bainbridge Island's Japanese-Americans from returning here after wartime internment. For this, the park district may rename a scout camp once dedicated in his honor.While some have decried the proposal as revisionism, Hopkins' record on the home front is a blight in island history books. Too, no one has come to his defense, or can recall with any specificity why he deserved the honor in the first place.Now a citizen committee and the park board consider new possibilities. Should the park be dubbed for another figure significant to local scouts? To island history? Fine suggestions, both. Certainly, a generic name like Camp Intrepid seems an opportunity lost - another Bland, er, Grand Forest.Another thought occurs to us, an historical irony yet unmentioned: While Hopkins was campaigning against the Japanese-Americans at home, many of them were fighting abroad, defending his freedom to be a jerk.The Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team - also known as the Nisei brigade and the Go For Broke unit - was comprised mostly of Japanese-Americans; the outfit fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France, the Rhineland and Central Europe from September 1943 through May 1945.Military historians tell us the soldiers of the 442nd earned a reputation as the Army's best assault troops in the liberation of Europe. In their most famous action, they took 800 casualties while rescuing the Lost Brigade, a rifle company of Texas boys stuck behind German lines; in another action, Lt. Daniel Inouye (who would later represent Hawaii in the U.S. Senate) lost his arm in a charge against a machine gun position.The 442nd was a storied outfit; its 100th Infantry Battalion took so much punishment it was dubbed the Purple Heart Brigade. Together, the 442nd earned 18,143 decorations, including seven Presidential Unit Citations and 9,486 Purple Hearts. Nearly 10,000 Nisei were wounded in action; 67 went missing; 700 gave their lives for their country.Their heroics even inspired a pretty good war flick - Go For Broke (MGM, 1951) - and are detailed in the book Honor By Fire (Presidio Press, 1995).And in their ranks were Bainbridge volunteers Art Koura (still an island resident today), Bill Okazaki and the now-deceased Mo Nakata, all wounded within two days of each other in France. In 1945, the Review reported that more than 40 Japanese-Americans from the island - some of them Boy Scouts as kids - were wearing the Army's olive drab. So while the period for suggesting new names for Camp Hopkins is officially closed, we'll toss out one more anyway. It might offer a good lesson for local scouts and other youths who use the camp in coming years - even as we teach them freedom and peace, they can learn of the valor and sacrifice sometimes necessary in their defense.Why not put up a plaque honoring the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and its soldiers from Bainbridge Island, and call it Camp Nisei?Name the park for a group of bona fide war heroes. Not even the Major could argue with that. "