Monday, May 9, 2011

National Japanese American Memorial

After visiting the Newseum in Washington, DC, to see the handwritten newspaper from Ishinomaki in earthquake-and-tsunami ravaged Miyagi Prefecture, I stopped by the National Japanese American Memorial, which is in walking distance of both the museum and Union Station. It is dedicated to the more than 120,000 men, women, and children who were sent to internment camps throughout the West during World War II as a result of Executive Order 9066. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 targeted Japanese Americans as threats to national security. (No such order was signed for citizens of German or Italian ancestry.)

Standing as a reminder of the unlawful incarceration of these US citizens, the memorial also commemorates the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which states, ". . . a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II."

Reflecting Pond at the National Japanese American Memorial

The memorial is made up of stone slabs that explain the internment and the resulting Civil Liberties Act, name each of the internment camps, and present quotes from noted internees who went on to serve the US military during World War II and then our nation as congressmen and senators.

There were ten internment camps: Two in Arizona (Gila River and Poston), two in Arkansas (Jerome and Rowher), two in California (Manzanar and Tule Lake), and one each in Colorado (Amache), Idaho (Minidoka), Utah (Topaz), and Wyoming (Heart Mountain).

In the middle of the arc of camp names is "The Golden Cranes," monument by sculptor Nina Akamu, a third generation Japanese American. Dedicated in 2002, "The Golden Cranes" received the Henry Hering Award from the National Sculpture Society.

"The Golden Cranes" by Nina Akamu

Despite the prejudice of being interned, many Japanese American men fought for the US military during World War II, as members of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The names of those who didn't come home are carved into the National Japanese American Memorial.

Last October, President Barak Obama signed legislation awarding both units the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 442nd is the subject of a documentary by Japanese filmmaker Junichiro Suzuki.

Mike M. Masaoka - Staff Sergeant, 442nd Regimental Combat Team; Civil Rights Advocate

Spark M. Matsunaga - Captain, 100th Infantry Battalion; US Congressman; US Senator 

Daniel K. Inouye - Captain, 442nd Regimental Combat Team; US Congressman; US Senator

President Harry S Truman at a 1946 White House ceremony

President Ronald Reagan's quote upon the signing of the Civil Liberties Act in August of 1988 runs along the perimeter:

"Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law."

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