'He carried the torch of liberty'Islanders honored the life of former Review editor Walt Woodward at a memorial Saturday.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:43 PM
"Hundreds of islanders remembered Walt Woodward Saturday as an inspiration, a hero, and an embodiment of the best in the community.The former editor of the Bainbridge Review died March 13 at age 91. The community service took place at the middle school named for Woodward and his wife Millie.He appealed to the best within us at a moment when our nation lost its way, said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, (D-Bainbridge Island).The defining moment for the Woodwards came 59 years ago when, in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government sent West Coast citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps, fearing sabotage.The Review was the only West Coast newspaper to editorially protest the internment order, which Woodward argued was blatantly unconstitutional.The newspaper did more than air its views. Woodward appointed then high-school junior Paul Ohtaki, a part-time custodian at the newspaper, to be the Review's internment camp correspondent.I told him no, because I didn't think my English was good enough, Ohtaki told the audience Saturday.Ohtaki sent a couple of dispatches back to Bainbridge Island, then did the unthinkable - he missed a deadline.Dear Lazybones, began Woodward's gently chiding letter, which Ohtaki read to the crowd.Woodward told his correspondent that failing to file dispatches would do great damage to the camp's islanders. He said that it would be much easier for the internees to return to Bainbridge after the war if the Review continued to report on their daily lives, creating the impression that they were off on only a temporary absence, and still considered the island their home.The camp dispatches had the desired effect. More than half of the internees did return to Bainbridge, reportedly the highest return percentage in any West Coast Japanese-American community.Frank Kitamoto, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, said Woodward had a unique understanding of what the true problem was.The opposite of love isn't hate, it's fear, he said. Woodward believed you can choose to live in love or in fear.Woodward's three daughters, Carolyn, Mildred Mij and Mary, emphasized their father's loving nature, his devotion to the family and to the family avocations of fishing and sailing.He really understood about mortality, Carolyn said, and confronted what in himself he didn't like. He was open to the possibility of joy.While most speakers lauded Woodward's contribution to the community, Carolyn said it worked both ways.He got wonderful stuff in the relationship he was able to have with the community, she said.Bainbridge Island author David Guterson, who told Woodward's story in fictionalized form to much of the world in the best-selling Snow Falling on Cedars, said he was indebted to Woodward's example of what it means to be a human being.He inspired us all to be as decent, good and fair as we can be, Guterson said.Katie Callow, a seventh grader at Woodward school, said she learned about Woodward through doing a history project on the Japanese-American internment.He was not just a man but a hero, an inspiration that will never be forgotten, she said.Island native and former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who co-hosted the service, said the Woodwards were heirs to the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.Thomas Jefferson passed the torch of liberty to Walt and Millie, and in their hands it never flickered, he said. Could we carry Thomas Jefferson's torch? America needs our answer to be yes.The event also saw a gathering of nearly every Review editor to hold the job from the end of Woodward's tenure in the early 1960s to the present.Editors and former Review staff members came from as far away as Georgia and Antarctica for the service.Like a morning religious service at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, which Woodward helped found, the community service was filmed in its entirety for Japanese television.The event was organized and co-hosted by island historian Gerald Elfendahl. He said that from a historian's perspective, Woodward would likely outlive anyone in the audience.If we are here as long as the last person remembers us, Elfendahl said, will any of us be here longer than Walt? "