Memorial's lesson? 'Let in never happen again' | In Our Opinion | April 2
April 9, 2010 · Updated 11:19 AM
On the front page of the Bainbridge Review’s edition of May 6, 1943, Paul Ohtaki, the newspaper’s correspondent in the Minidoka Relocation Center, reported that three island nisei living in the camp in Hunt, Idaho, had been accepted “for active, fighting duty” with the U.S. Army.
Art Koura and Tsutomu Fukuyama were “assigned to the special Japanese-American combat unit” (the famed 442nd Infantry Regiment) training in Camp Shelby, Miss.; and Takashi Sakuma reported to the Army’s language school in Camp Savage, Minn.
In an editorial printed in the same edition, Review editor Walt Woodward wrote:
“A day or so before our Japanese colony was evacuated, we told a small group of solemn-faced nisei: ‘Not until some of you fellows get out there in the front-line trenches and die for America will people really realize that there IS a difference between a Tokoyo Jap and a Japanese-American citizen.’
“We didn’t like to say that, for the little group included some mighty good friends of ours. But they had asked us to explain how local American citizens of Japanese ancestry could overcome the prejudice which an unthinking portion of the public was building up against them. That ‘death sentence’ was our answer.
“We still think death of nisei in American uniforms will be the only way to wake up such bigots as General DeWitt (the American Army general who said, ‘A Jap is a Jap.’) and to calm the hatred aroused by the brutal murder of our American airmen by those malevolent mice in Tokyo.
“Feeling as we do, it was with a fateful feeling that we read the quotation secured from Takashi Sakuma, a young islander as he marched away from the relocation center at Hunt, Idaho, a volunteer in Uncle Sam’s Army (the same Army, incidentally, to which General DeWitt belongs). Said young American soldier Sakuma: ‘I think what we do for our country now will determine the path of the nisei tomorrow.’
“By death, only will the nisei be left to live in freedom and respect in America.”
Fortunately, no Bainbridge Island Japanese Americans who served their country during World War II (about 60 men and two women) lost their lives, though many were awarded Purple Hearts after suffering battle wounds.
But many others did give their life for their country, which, as Walt and Milly Woodward realized, made them as American as any other man or woman who sacrificed their life during a time of war.
Still, as the Americans of Japanese descent who returned to Bainbridge Island and other West Coast communities after the war soon discovered, the deep wounds of racial hatred were slow to heal. “A Jap is a Jap” was a difficult concept to expunge from the psyche of a generation that suffered through a horrific war instigated by others.
Here, it has taken 68 years, as of this past Tuesday, to create a memorial (Nidoto Nai Yoni: “Let it never happen again”) for those who experienced their own explicit form of anguish for being born of Japanese ancestry. Only they know the pain of their lengthy healing process. But, through their memorial, we can at least share it.