Japanese American Memorial; A Reminder to Future Generations
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2000 "Courage comes in many forms,” Cherry Tsutsumida said as she looked out over a sea of umbrellas shielding the more than 2,000 people from the drizzling rain during the recent dedication of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, here.
"Courage isn’t just picking up a sword or arrow; it means being able to give of yourself in ways that holds the community and a family together," said Tsutsumida, executive director of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.
The monument recognizes the heroism of Japanese Americans during World War II. It also recognizes the injustice committed against Japanese Americans by the U.S. government during the war. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes into relocation camps.
Tsutsumida, a former intern camp resident, paid tribute to thousands of women for holding their families together while their husbands and fathers were interned in desolate camps during World War II.
Tsutsumida was one of the children uprooted from home and forced into an internment camp after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She told the audience that she was going home from school one day when a girlfriend said, “You Japs deserve it. I just saw them take your father away.”
Startled and hurt by her friend's mean-spirited comment, Tsutsumida said she didn't believe what the girl said. "But when I got home, surely enough, my father had been taken from us," Tsutsumida said. "And it wasn’t until the war was almost over that he was returned to us.
“When all of our fathers were gone and our brothers were leaving for war, it was the women who tried to say, ‘Don’t worry; it’s going to be okay,’" she said. "Then at night, I would hear them sleeping alone and crying themselves to sleep.”
Tsutsumida said after her father was released, he acted like nothing had happened. He’d tell the children stories at night and read to them about the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.
"My father said it’s really important to believe in what you truly want and it’s important to even die for what you truly believe," she said. "Anybody can die for their country, but it’s equally important to live for your country."
The senior citizen said as she grew older and the civil rights movement began, "we saw Martin Luther King Jr. and began to realize that this nation is strong, not in spite of its diversity, but because of its diversity."
NBC television news anchor Ann Curry, the mistress of ceremony, said in 1942 the U.S. government forced Japanese American men, women and children from their homes and put them in internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
"Their crime was having Japanese ancestors," Curry said. "Many of them were U.S. citizens by birth. But still they were singled out. They were the only group so treated by this nation during World War II.
"Let us be sure that this injustice in our nation’s history teaches us a lesson, not just of the suffering and deprivation, but also of hope, patriotism and perseverance," Curry said. "Think of the patriotism of the brave young men who fought and died for our nation despite imprisonment of loved ones at home."
George Joe Sakato of Denver was one of those brave young men who served as an Army private with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He said the memorial “brings back memories that I hate to bring back. A fellow died in my arms, that’s hard to think about.”
Sakato's bravery on the battlefield was finally recognized more than 55 years after the war when, last July, President Clinton placed the Medal of Honor around his neck. Clinton recognized Sakato and 21 other Asian Americans, 20 of them Japanese Americans.
"I’m a strong believer in better late than never," said Robert Katayana, who also fought with the 442nd. "It has been several decades since we went through the incarcerations at the relocation camps, as well as going into combat in Italy and France.
"It's touching and very emotional that we have a memorial that gives a message to all of America that what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II should not be forgotten so that it will never happen again," Katayana said.
Melvin Chigioji, chairman of the Board of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, said, "This memorial will serve as a reminder to future generations long after those of us who experienced the internment are gone."