April 24, 2004: During the Grand Opening Ceremony, Frank Hays, Superintendent of Manzanar National Historic Site, said, "There were 10,000 people here; there are 10,000 stories to be told." In a place like Manzanar, they are the hardest stories to tell.
Left, the renowned Taiko Drum Group performs during the ceremonies.
. . .
Following the ceremonies, seventy-seven year old Elichi Norihiro gets a mention in both the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.  He was the fifteen year old who roused the ire of Manzanar MPs when he refused to don a POW shirt. He was thereby deemed to be a troublemaker and transferred to the harsh camp at Tule Lake, California, where the Japanese nationals (the ones loyal to the Emperor) were held. He contacted tuberculosis there, which was not well treated, and he ended up spending the rest of his life without a right leg. In response to the idea that the Japanese Americans were interned "for their own protection", Norihiro responded, "If it was for our own protection, which way should the guards be looking and the guns be pointing? They were pointed at us." 
Colonel Ed Wakayama was born in Manzanar in 1943 but spent his childhood in Japan.  His father, Kinzo, was an American citizen by birth, and educated as a lawyer. This brought him into misfortune during his years at Manzanar. As an educated man with a legal mind, he dared to stand up for his rights and those of his people. He was jailed for translating camp materials into Japanese for those who couldn't understand English. He was jailed for protesting the diversion of food into the black market. Labeled as a troublemaker, Kinzo Wakayama and his family were moved from camp to camp until he was finally forced to sign away his U.S. citizenship at the point of a gun. When the family was released in 1946, they were obliged to move back to Japan. Unfortunately, their relatives in Japan lived in Hiroshima and were all wiped out by the atomic bomb.
Kinzo Wakayama still believed in the American Dream and insisted his son, Ed, return to the U.S. to live his life. Ed was educated at Northeastern University and is a fellow alumnus of this writer. He enjoyed a successful career in both academia as a scientist and in the U.S. Army where he attained the rank of Colonel in a thirty-six year career. He has also become an expert on the Japanese internment and civil rights. Now retired, he is often invited to speak about his experiences and those of his family. His biggest fear is that of history repeating itself. He speaks out against the Patriot Act and its threat to the Bill of Rights. With his background, he is certainly justified to be concerned. Ed Wakayama's main message is: LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES!
Sadao Munemori was one of the young soldiers who visited his incarcerated family behind the barbed wire of Manzanar. He is believed to have enlisted in the army just before Pearl Harbor and was therefore not interned. However his widowed mother and three siblings were interned at Manzanar. 
Originally assigned to MIS (army intelligence), Munemori desired to get into combat with the all Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He is believed to have joined the 100th Infantry Battalion in Italy in March 1944, and to have participated in all the unit's combat actions from April 1944 onward. In March 1945, Munemori's unit entered the Pisa region of northern Italy to participate in the Po Valley Campaign. On April 5, 1945, the unit engaged in a fierce battle while attacking the German "Gothic Line". Munemori performed with extraordinary heroism before sacrificing his own life by diving on a hand grenade, saving the lives of his comrades.
Sadao Munemori gave his life for his country a mere month before combat in Europe ended, and while his widowed mother and brother were still locked up in Manzanar Camp, where they in fact remained until September 21, 1945. The War Department handed the Munemori family the death notification at Manzanar.
Private Sadao Munemori was a posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only Japanese American to win the medal during World War II. (However twenty-one additional Asian Americans were upgraded from other awards to Medals of Honor in June 2000.  These men were believed to have been deprived of the nation's highest award for valor due to racism. Munemori's heroism must have indeed been deemed extraordinary for him to have received the award in 1946.)
The award was presented to his mother, Nawa Munemori, on March 13, 1946, at San Pedro, California. The Congressional General Order Number 24 of March 7, 1946, described his actions as follows: 
"He fought with great gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy. When his unit was pinned down by grazing fire from the enemy's strong mountain defense and command of the squad devolved on him with the wounding of its regular leader, he made frontal, one-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machineguns with grenades. Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He arose into the withering fire, dived for the missile and smothered its blast with his body. By his swift, supremely heroic action Pfc. Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his own life and did much to clear the path for his company's victorious advance."
How did men such as Sadao Munemori perform so heroically when they and their families had been treated so badly? They faced a dilemma often faced by people of color and other minorities during the entire life of this nation: They believed in America a lot more than America believed in them. Perhaps the men of the 442nd believed if they fought harder and died more than anyone else, America would stop doubting their loyalty and let their families go free.
. . .
It took many years for the United States to provide redress to the Japanese Americans interned in the camps. In 1976, President Ford formally rescinded Executive Order 9066, stating, "We know now what we should have known then: not only was evacuation wrong but Japanese Americans were and are loyal Americans." President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 providing for payments of $20,000 to all surviving internees as well as review of convictions arising out of resistance to the evacuation program. 
However, in 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the evacuation program on the grounds of "military necessity", and this ruling has never been overturned. Given our present circumstances, the threat to our civil liberties should be obvious to all. 
"You may think that the Constitution is your security - it is nothing but a piece of paper. You may think that the statutes
are your security - they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of government is your security -
it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your
statutes, to make efficient your government machinery."
--Former Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes 
Page 1 |
Page 2 |
NEXT PAGE |