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Rep. Kilmer introduces bill to properly recognize memorial to Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island

Congressman Derek Kilmer introduced a bill Wednesday to officially recognize a new name for the Bainbridge Island memorial to Japanese Americans forced from their homes during World War II.

Bainbridge groups — including the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association — and residents pushed for the renaming of the National Historic Site, previously referenced in federal law as the "Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial," to better reflect the history it commemorates.

Rep. Kilmer, a 6th District Democrat from Gig Harbor, worked closely with local leaders and the National Park Service to clarify how to appropriately change the name and to make sure that the new name would be fully recognized in federal law.

The legislation calls for the site to be properly recognized as the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

“Starting in 1942, under the cloak of wartime, thousands of Japanese Americans across the country were forced from their homes,” Kilmer said.

“Sites like the Bainbridge memorial remind us of this trying time in our nation’s history and its impact on some of our proudest citizens. Working with folks in Bainbridge, I’m pleased that we can help honor this community and underscore for visitors that this is the first place in the country where Japanese Americans were forcibly excluded from their community,” he said.

The memorial is located at the former Eagledale ferry dock. It is the only national memorial to the internment of Japanese Americans not located at an incarceration site.

“The word exclusion is so vital to completely tell this sad chapter of American history, because not only were 120,000 Japanese Americans forcibly removed and placed behind barbed wire in American concentration camps, but anyone with a drop of blood of Japanese ancestry was forbidden to remain in the exclusion zone," said Clarence Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association.

"We should remember and honor everyone who suffered from this unconstitutional violation of civil liberties, and vow to never let fear, hysteria and prejudice deprive anyone of life, liberty and equal protection under the law,” Moriwaki said.

Kilmer's bill comes after work by Bainbridge leaders to have the official name of the memorial changed.

The Bainbridge Island City Council adopted a resolution in late April that called for the word "exclusion" to be added and the name changed to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

“While this change may seem minor, it goes to the heart of the experience of the Japanese American community during World War II. We are grateful for Rep. Kilmer's efforts and support,” said Bainbridge Councilman Val Tollefson.

“Incorporating the word 'exclusion' into the official name has long been a goal of those who have worked hard and long to make this memorial a reality," Tollefson added. "Finally accomplishing this step will especially honor the work of Dr. Frank Kitamoto, who devoted his life to telling the story of the exclusion, in the hope that through education we will avoid a repeat of this sorry chapter in our history.”

“The mission of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is to 'Let it not happen again,'” said City Manager Doug Schulze. “This site reminds us to learn from the past and stay vigilant in the future, while teaching us the strength of community and forgiveness. The city of Bainbridge Island would like to thank Rep. Kilmer for his leadership in making sure that the memorial has a name that signifies its importance to our community, our visitors and future generations.”

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing Japanese Americans to be excluded from important military areas. Bainbridge Island became the first place to be deemed an “exclusion zone” by the United States government and 227 Japanese Americans were forced to leave Bainbridge Island, boarding a ferry at Eagledale to begin a journey that would end in internment camps.

Residents of the island used the local paper, the Bainbridge Review, to stay in touch with those who were interned. The paper’s publishers, Walt and Milly Woodward, openly opposed the removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island, making them one of the only West Coast newspaper publishers to oppose the law.

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