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A grand gateway to the past

The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial project charges ahead with a financial boost and the unveiling of the park’s entrance gate next month.

The gate will be constructed in Winslow on Oct. 2, said John Buday, a master timber framer. He and the Timber Framers Guild offered their assistance and materials free-of-charge.

The gate will sit outside the Winslow post office with information boards about the memorial project until it is installed at the Taylor Avenue memorial site.

The Bainbridge Island Rotary Club presented a $25,000 check for the planned memorial at last week’s meeting of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.

Clarence Moriwaki, chair of BIJAC’s memorial committee, praised the generosity of the framers’ guild and Rotary, as residents debate school lessons on the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

“Some are questioning the retelling of this story in our school district,” Moriwaki said. “That makes this award all the more important.”

Bainbridge Island Rotary president Joanne Croghan said her organization wished to help preserve and recognize a part of the island’s past that grows more distant each year.

“The internment was a significant part of our island’s history,” she said. “The people who experienced (internment) will one day be gone from the earth. The longer we wait, the more blurred their history becomes.”

The history of the internment has already faded in some island residents’ minds, Moriwaki said, referring to some residents who have criticized the “Leaving Our Island” social studies unit at Sakai Intermediate School. Several parents have charged that the lesson focuses too much on internment, is taught out of context and is too complex for sixth-graders.

“People are again regurgitating old myths and discredited information,” Moriwaki said.

He added that he’s seen a rising movement to revise internment history, but said the efforts have been discredited by a bipartisan Congress and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. The memorial has garnered unanimous backing in the Washington State Legislature, the Kitsap County Commission and the City of Bainbridge Island.

The memorial will mark the site of the old Eagledale ferry landing, where the first 227 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps on March 30, 1942.

Moriwaki said it will help residents remember a “moment of fear and war hysteria when America lost its way and forgot the Constitution applied to all.”

The Rotary’s award brings to $560,000 the group’s total raised for the $4 million project. The memorial will spread over five to eight acres on the former Wyckoff property on Bill Point.

Rotary also recently awarded $25,000 for land acquisition there for the creation of Pritchard Park on the rest of the Wyckoff site.

BIJAC now will put together brochures and a model of the memorial to help with a new fundraising effort.

“We want to show donors the intricate detail of the project,” Moriwaki said. “If we’re going to ask for six figures, (donors) are going to want to know what we have in mind.” The group will ask donors of smaller amounts to contribute to individual portions of the memorial, such as statues, bricks, small bridges and gates.

The group will begin the memorial’s final design work, site clearing and grading, shoreline stabilization and other projects before June 2005.

Volunteers are also helping to save a historic cedar tree at the memorial site. The century-old cedar, listed under the National Register of Historic Trees, is ailing on an eroding bank.

“It’s a living witness to history but is in dire health,” Moriwaki said. The tree’s instability is exacerbated by many sinkholes.

“There’s four or five caves under there,” he said. “Its only by the will of a fantastic root system that the tree’s still there.”

The group hopes to enlist the aid of volunteers for a fall work party to stabilize the tree.

For more information, call the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community at 842-4772.

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