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Inslee, Cantwell honor Japanese American Memorial Wall
President Franklin Roosevelt told the country that Dec. 7, 1941, was a day that would live in infamy.
Borrowing from the famous speech, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) wanted March 30, 1942, to be a day that lived in learning.
That was the day 227 Bainbridge residents of Japanese descent were taken to internment camps during World War II.
Inslee and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), among others, joined a crowd of approximately 50 people gathered Tuesday to celebrate the legacy of these people, and the federal grant awarded to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial wall.
“March 30, 1942, is a day that should live in learning,” he said. “Learning that we should never strip our citizens of their civil liberties. Learning to never recreate what fear can do in this country.”
The $183,000 grant came through the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Site program, which was authorized in 2006 to honor and preserve monuments related to Japanese exclusion and confinement. The full funding was more than $3 million for 23 Japanese memorial projects in 12 states.
Cantwell and Inslee sponsored bills in the Congress to include the Bainbridge memorial as a satellite to the Minidoka National Historic site in Idaho, a monument for an internment camp where many of the Bainbridge residents were taken.
“On this very site, American citizens were stripped of their freedom and their rights, for no other reason than their heritage,” Cantwell said.
The plan is to use the grant money for building and installation of the materials to memorialize the individuals, said Sallie Maron, president of the board of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. How those individuals will be remembered on the wall hasn’t been decided, but the goal is to complete the wall by next March 30 to remember the 69th anniversary of the day 227 residents were taken off the island.
On March 30, 1942, the first of nearly 12,000 Japanese Washington residents were taken from Bainbridge because of their proximity to crucial U.S. naval bases in Puget Sound.
They had six days to pack up their lives. Overall, more than 120,000 Japanese were taken to these camps under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
The wall stands as a reminder of what happened to those citizens. Its title, Nidoto Nai Yoni (let it never happen again) also represents the hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.
The wall is only the beginning of the plans for the memorial. Two major phases are left to be completed. The next step is construction of a 150-foot pier above the water, which will represent the 150 residents who returned to Bainbridge from the camps. The final phase is a 4,000-square-foot interpretive and learning center.
Maron said it was important to finish the wall first because it is the piece that will honor the survivors more than anything.
“The memorial wall is what we think of as the heart,” she said. “It’s the piece that speaks to those who were interned. The other pieces will tell the full story and give a context, and that’s important too, but we wanted to get the wall done as soon as possible because the survivors are leaving.”
While the grant paid for more than half of the wall’s estimated $300,000 cost, the two final phases remain in need of funds. Maron said fundraising for the other two phases has not yet begun. It is estimated that the remaining cost to the project falls somewhere in the $6 million range.
For now, Maron said, the focus is on the wall.
The memorial wall stands as a remembrance for those who struggled and persevered through internment, said Karen Yoshitomi, regional direct of the Seattle branch of the Japanese American Citizens League, at the Tuesday gathering.
Yoshitomi and the other speakers pointed to the monument as a reminder of the kinds of things that can occur in times of fear. People must remember this dark time in history, so that it doesn’t recur.
“Today, we must remain vigilant, so that something like this never happens again,” Yoshitomi said.