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Memorial lays a cornerstone of hope

Sixty years after a community was torn apart by wartime fears and prejudices, hundreds of Bainbridge Islanders came together on the same spot to vow that it will never happen again.

“There is a sacredness to this corner of land, a sacredness enshrined by 227 men, women and children,” said Gov. Gary Locke.

Locke joined local dignitaries and members of the island’s Japanese-American community in paying tribute to the islanders of Japanese descent who were forced onto the ferry Kehloken and taken from the island on March 30, 1942.

On the sixtieth anniversary of that event, a granite memorial was unveiled on the site of the old Eagledale ferry dock, the site of the initial evacuation from the West Coast of Japanese-Americans, most of whom were citizens.

“The creed that all men are created equal was bitterly forsaken,” Locke said.

“I cannot imagine how any community could overcome such an intense sense of betrayal,” he said. “But they believed in the promise of America, in its essential goodness.”

The simple stone unveiled Saturday is the precursor of what proponents hope will be a federally designated national memorial extending along Taylor from Eagle Harbor Drive down to the waterfront.

The actual ferry dock has disappeared. As conceived by architect John Paul Jones, the memorial will include a wall with the names of those excluded, statuary representing the armed soldiers who escorted the internees to the ferry and the non-Japanese islanders who turned out in force to bid goodbye to their neighbors and wish them a prompt return.

The thematic heart of the memorial will be the walk itself down from Eagle Harbor Drive to the water, literally in the footsteps of the internees.

“They were all in shock,” said Frank Kitamoto, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, who was just over two years old when he and his family took that walk onto the Kehloken.

“They didn’t know where they were going, how long they were going to be there, or if they were ever coming back,” he said.

It took time, Kitamoto said, for those affected to begin talking about the exclusion.

“Ironically, we have spent almost 60 years trying to forget,” he said, “but we have to learn from this site.”

Some lessons have been learned, said Mary Woodward, whose parents Walt and Milly spoke out against the Japanese internment in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor through the Bainbridge Review newspaper.

“You changed the nation,” she said to the handful of former internees who gathered for the ceremonies. “By talking publicly about what happened, our national memory has been altered, and we began to say that what happened to you must not happen to Arab-Americans.”

Honors

Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Bainbridge Island), said that honoring those who were wrongly banished from Bainbridge Island and western Washington in no way detracts from the heroism of those who won World War II.

“Our commitment never again to succumb to the fear of our neighbors is an additional victory of World War II,” Inslee said. “We don’t stand here today in judgment of history but in a shared commitment to the future,” he said.

The site has been nominated for possible inclusion into the National Park Service system. Inslee has introduced legislation to put the site on a list for a formal study, which will determine its suitability for inclusion.

“The Park Service can’t go much farther without Congress acting,” said NPS representative Stephanie Toothman, who was involved in the initial nomination. “But it’s an honor to have been involved in getting things to this point.”

The memorial effort is closely related to the parallel efforts to acquire the Wyckoff superfund site as a public park.

To accommodate parking and an interpretive center, the memorial would need to include some property from the extreme west end of the Wyckoff site, an area that has already been cleaned of any creosote contamination and could be released to the public.

A recent appraisal gave a value of roughly $8 million to the 50-acre Wyckoff site, depending on future uses, and the city hopes to get federal funding of up to $7 million to help with the purchase.

“That’s good news,” Inslee said of the appraisal. “We’re still doing the groundwork before beginning the appropriations process, but nobody has said ‘no’ yet.”

Meanwhile, the memorial committee will try to broaden its membership to better represent all segments of the island community, and position itself to undertake fund-raising and other activities necessary to turn architect Jones’ conception into a reality.

“It’s beyond anything we can handle,” said Deborah Hickey-Tiernan, one of the original committee members.

Committee member Clarence Moriwaki noted that of the 227 Island evacuees, all of whose names were read during the 90-minute ceremony, “the great majority are no longer with us.

“Most memorials are erected to people who are long gone,” he said. “This is a rare opportunity to memorialize people while at least a fraction of them are still here.”

Hickey-Tiernan noted that the presence of some of those affected gives the exclusion a special poignancy.

“When you see an event like this in the faces of people you know, it is really penetrating,” she said.

Community Events, April 2014

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