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‘So it does not happen again’

With a single tug, the island’s Japanese American community removed a veil from history.

A crowd of more than 10 got a first look at a new National Park Service exhibit on the Japanese internment during World War II Tuesday – 60 years to the day after the exclusion order was signed.

The 10x12-foot display, now in the city hall lobby, includes poetry, historical texts, a map of the 10 “relocation centers” – and a photograph of Bainbridge residents of Japanese descent being loaded onto a truck bound for the Manzanar camp.

“There were those who said that it was okay for us to be treated like that because we were different,” said Frank Kitamoto, who was a young child when his family was removed to Manzanar in 1942. “It’s important to show the pictures and to tell the story so that it does not happen again.”

The exhibit’s two-year tour begins on Bainbridge, in recognition that island residents were the first to be removed after Executive Order 9066. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, the order excluded people of Japanese descent from “militarily sensitive” Pacific Coast areas.

Clarence Moriwaki, spokesperson for the island’s Nikkei Exclusion Memorial committee, arranged with the National Park Service to open the exhibit on the island.

The NPS commissioned the new exhibit at a cost of $20,000. After moving to the Bainbridge Library for several weeks, the display will be seen in schools, government buildings and shopping malls throughout the Northwest.

While most of the display is devoted to an overview of the exclusion, there are also removable panels that can be changed to reflect the history of a specific area.

Members of the Japanese American community and well-wishers packed the council chambers at city hall to hear remarks by Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, Kitamoto, and Neil King, regional superintendent with the NPS.

“Many of the people who left from Bainbridge 60 years ago are still here with us to see how we are memorializing those events,” Kordonowy said. “And there are those who were able to keep the friendships alive and welcome them back.”

Inslee described legislation he introduced on Feb. 13, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial Act, which would create a national park at the Taylor Avenue road end. There, the first Japanese Americans departed for the camps at the Eagledale ferry dock.

The WWII Nikkei Exclusion Memorial, if approved by Congress, will commemorate the experience of Japanese and Japanese Americans forced to leave Western Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska.

“This is the first step in the memorial process,” Inslee said. “That story will be told to the American people to make sure that people understand how fear can drive even a democratic government to make bad decisions.

“This is the perfect place to do it – where it started.”

Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have endorsed the legislation, said Ryan Dix, an aide in Cantwell’s office.

And Monday, the state House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Rockefeller supporting the memorial. The bill next goes to the state Senate for consideration.

King, superintendent for the Minidoka National Monument established last year at the site of the Idaho internment camp, says that what is learned there will be applied to the Taylor Avenue site.

If the memorial is approved, the next step in the planning process will be a comprehensive National Park Service report on options for a memorial.

King said the NPS will seek input from islanders.

The exclusion memorial would be the first use made of reclaimed Wyckoff property, the west end of which has been cleared of contaminants left by a former creosote plant.

First-hand accounts of the exclusion by a panel of former internees and witnesses brought home the importance of both the internment exhibit and the memorial legislation to listeners.

Kitamoto was a young child when his family was relocated to Manzanar from Bainbridge.

“We arrived on April Fool’s Day to live in tar-paper shacks there were little shelter from dust, wind and temperatures that ranged from 0 to 100 degrees,” Kitamoto said.

“We lost three and a half years of our lives, but really it was 30 years, because a lot of us lost everything and had to start over.”

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