Memorial of hope

Japanese American internees help break ground for Pritchard Park and the memorial site.

Nine pairs of hands grasped the spades, poised at the edge of a crescent-shaped pile of earth and waiting for the signal from former Secretary of State Ralph Munro.

At 11:03 a.m. they turned the soil, marking the precise moment 62 years ago when a ferry carrying 227 members of the island’s Japanese American community – six of them present Tuesday – left the Eagledale dock on the first leg of a long journey into domestic exile.

With that action, the elderly survivors of the World War II removal of West Coast Japanese Americans symbolically broke ground for the Bainbridge Island World War II Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial, to be built at the end of Taylor Avenue, site of the former Eagledale ferry dock.

“I am hoping that the whole Pritchard Park becomes a reality,” said Hisa Matsudaira, who was 6 years old when she sailed on the ferry to be interned at the Manzanar camp in California.

“I think it would be wonderful park for the island as a whole, and to learn a little bit more about our history – the history of the United States, actually.

“What happened to us was not because we were aliens or anything like that, but our government, our own United States government was the one that made the mistake. We’re trying to prevent something like that from occurring again.”

Executive Order 9066, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, forced West Coast Americans of Japanese descent from their homes in 1942.

Among the dignitaries assembled Tuesday were former congressman and Washington governor Mike Lowery, state representatives Phil Rockefeller and Bev Woods, Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and former mayor Dwight Sutton, as well as members of Bainbridge’s Japanese American community, including internee Frank Kitamoto and Clarence Moriwaki, chair of the Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial Committee.

Many recalled visiting the site two years ago, the 60th anniversary of the internment and an occasion that marked the start of ongoing efforts to create the park and memorial on the 50-acre former Wyckoff property on Bill Point.

Since then, $4.75 million in secured and future grants have been raised toward a land acquisition goal of $8 million.

But some $3.5 million is left to be raised toward the $4 million needed for development of the memorial.

Planning for the site by island architect John Paul Jones includes such features as an interpretive center and a stone wall inset with the names, stories and photographs of Japanese American islanders who were sent to the camps.

The path leading to the dock would be graveled rather than paved, Jones says, so visitors hearing the sound of their footsteps, can contemplate the Japanese Americans’ long walk to the ferry.

The wall would extend 276 feet, one foot for every person of Japanese descent living on the island at that time.

But the site also commemorates those left behind – the soldiers who escorted them, the islanders who lined the dock to say farewell – with plans for sculptures symbolizing both groups. For Munro, the exclusion of fellow islanders was a recurring theme throughout his Bainbridge childhood.

Holding up a copy of the exclusion order that was posted front of the Munro family’s Crystal Springs home in early 1942, he told the crowd how his father took the order down and put it in the attic of the garage for safekeeping.

“When we were little kids, he would show it to us and talk to us about the implications of not following the Constitution,” Munro said, “out of a wide variety of reasons – whether it be it fear or panic or whatever it happened to be; (and the implications of going) beyond the Constitution in making decisions about how we behave in that society. It’s very important that we keep alive the memory that the Constitution is what we must follow in this country. And not the whims or attitude of the day.

“And the reason I say that so directly is that there are a hell of a lot of people in America right now who would like to lock up every Arab and sort them out later,” he added. “And that scares me to death. And so this Japanese memorial – as small as it might be – is very, very important.”

The event also kicked off the next phase of fund-raising for a hoped-for park site to the east. The park would honor the late Joel Pritchard, a staunch environmentalist who represented Bainbridge in Congress and later served as lieutenant governor.

Pritchard championed creation of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and the Ozette strip addition to the Olympic National Park.

“When you go the Gold Rush National Park that stretches from downtown Seattle all the way to the central Yukon territories, sponsored by Congressman Joel Pritchard, his name is not on any plaque,” Munro said. “He refused recognition...

“But it’s extremely important that we carry on his name with hopes that it will instill in many other people his attitude: We don’t care who gets the credit, let’s get the job done.”

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