Memorial Honors Japanese Americans' Loyalty to Nation
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 21, 2000 Japanese American veterans of World War II are the cornerstone of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, but the memorial that's scheduled to be dedicated here on Nov. 9, 2000 is not just a veterans memorial, said Cherry Tsutsumida.
The $8.6 million memorial is under construction near the city's main train station in a triangular park 600 yards north of the U.S. Capitol, said Tsutsumida, executive director of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation here.
In addition to commemorating the heroism and sacrifice of thousands of Japanese American war veterans, she said, the
Cherry Tsutsumida was interned at age 8 with her five sisters and brother. From April 1942 to September 1945, home was the War Relocation Authority internment camp at Gila River, Ariz. Her father, a broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower farmer in central California, was held in a camp at Santa Fe, N.M.
"The people who suffered the most were our parents, who literally lost everything they had, everything they earned and everything they built from the time they came to this country as immigrants," she said. Her father lost his farm and never the same again. He emerged from the camps a broken man, she said.
As a young farm child, Tsutsumida said, "Life was just an old ideal farming life. You have the land that's dedicated to farming and patches of land with little lakes, grass and trees. So on weekends we could go on picnics -- just like the stories in children's books. You go out on the farm and you saw the farm animals -- cows, chickens. Just a very ideal way to bring up a child."
By stark contrast, when she was interned, "The thing I remember most about camp is that it was so boring," she said. By the time she left the camp she'd read every book in the elementary school "because there wasn't anything else to do."
"You wanted to get out of the barracks because they were like Army barracks. There wasn't any privacy and everybody could hear what everybody said. The one thing that was always so pleasing to us is that the camp kids ranked higher on the annual achievement tests than other kids in Arizona," Tsutsumida said.
She recalled Gila River being isolated in the hot desert. "There wasn't any refrigeration," she said. "They brought food to us in the back of trucks and by the time it arrived, the milk and meat were rancid." There weren't any fruits and vegetables in the camp until the Japanese American farmers convinced the government to let them grow the produce, she said.
memorial pays respect to their parents and grandparents who fought a different battle, one against injustice, prejudice and discrimination in the United States during World War II.
In early 1942, the U.S. government uprooted more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in California and other Western states and sent them to remote camps scattered throughout the country.
"Japanese Americans were willing to undergo the unfortunate evacuation from the West Coast, without due process of law," she said. "Despite being interned, thousands of them saw it as their patriotic duty to enlist in the war efforts to serve their country."
And serve they did. Before the end of the war, 33,000 were in uniform. The all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team was one of the most decorated combat outfits in U.S. military history. It received seven Presidential Unit Citations, and its members received 18,143 personal decorations, including one Medal of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 588 awards of the Silver Star, 22 Legions of Merit, 5,200 awards of the Bronze Star, 12 Croix de Guerre and 9,486 Purple Hearts.
"One of the men, who later became a judge, said he knew that whenever the 442nd went on a mission it was a high- risk mission," Tsutsumida said. "They knew they were taking more than their share of hits. But they did it because they felt that was the way they would assure that their families would be better treated after the war."
She remembers Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a veteran of the 442nd, telling the story about the day a general called a formation to present awards for a successful mission, but was taken aback by the small number of men present. "He got angry at the commanding officer and asked, 'Why are so many of your men not here?'" Tsutsumida said. "The response was, 'They died.'"
But the memorial is more. "The younger generation, especially because of the Vietnam War, doesn't want Japanese Americans to be remembered -- stereotyped -- just as soldiers," she said. "They want to show that they believe the greatness of the nation [comes from] fighting for your civil rights as well as fighting wars.
"This memorial tells the nation that what happened to Japanese American during World War II will never happen again because of people's race, creed or national origin," she said. "We're trying to say that the greatest nation in the world made a mistake, but it has the courage to apologize and not deny that great nations make mistakes. By doing so, we reaffirm it will never happen again to any other group."