National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism Dedicated
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2000 Drizzling rain was mixed with tears streaming down the faces of Japanese American World War II heroes and those who spent the war years imprisoned in isolated internment camps as the National Japanese American Memorial for Patriotism was dedicated here Nov. 9.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon said the memorial embodies the pride and triumph of America against totalitarianism and marks the shame and humility the nation earned when it fell prey to its prejudice and fears. De Leon was one of the speakers at the gathering of about 2,000 people who came to commemorate the heroism and sacrifice of Japanese Americans who fought and died for the United States.
They also came to honor the more than 120,000 men, women and children who maintained their loyalty even though they were put in desolate internment camps. Other speakers included Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta and Congressman Robert Matsui. The mistress of ceremony was Ann Curry, NBC television network newscaster.
De Leon said the proud and long overdue memorial will join other monuments around the world that embody the heroics and dedication of the soldiers and Americans who served their country. It also honors those who served with heroism and dedication while indignities and hardships were suffered by their families, the deputy defense secretary said.
Located within sight of the Capitol, the memorial is in a triangular island bounded by New Jersey and Louisiana avenues and D Street in northwest Washington. The names, location and population of the 10 major wartime internment camps are etched into a pink granite wall along with the names of more than 800 Japanese Americans who were killed in combat during the war.
The memorial's central feature is a 14-foot-high sculpture of bronze cranes representing the duality of the universe. A hammered strand of barbed wire holds the bird's wings flush to the sides of the base. The birds have grasped the wire with their beaks in an attempt to break free. The cranes, sculpted by Nina A. Akamu, sit atop a rough-cut base of green Vermont marble.
Work on the memorial is expected to be finished by the spring with the addition of a cascading pool and cherry trees.
De Leon said the Nisei ("second generation," in Japanese) made the nation proud. These Japanese Americans were members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.
"Today, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team is known as the 'Go for Broke' team," de Leon said. "In October of 1944 they were given one of the most difficult missions of World War II: battle through nine miles of enemy territory to save a 'lost' battalion from Texas that had been encircled by the enemy. Ultimately, more than 800 soldiers -- virtually all Japanese Americans -- gave their lives to rescue 275 of their comrades."
De Leon said one of the great ironies of World War II was that Japanese Americans of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were among the first allied troops to liberate the Dachau concentration camp. They liberated prisoners of war while some of them had family members kept in internment camps back in the United States, he noted.
In World War II, Japanese Americans earned more than 18,000 individual decorations -- more than 9,000 of them Purple Heart medals, de Leon pointed out. "For their numbers and length of service, the Japanese Americans of the 442nd, including the 100th Infantry Battalion, became the most decorated unit in American military history," de Leon said. He noted that last July, President Clinton bestowed Medals of Honor on 22 Asian Americans, 20 of them Japanese Americans of the 442nd.
Attorney General Reno read from a letter by President Clinton: "We are diminished when any American is targeted unfairly because of his or her heritage. This memorial and the internment sites are powerful reminders that stereotyping, discrimination, hatred and racism have no place in this country."
Reno noted that Clinton has directed the interior secretary to explore the possibility of preserving the 10 internment camps as lessons in history.
"This nation is at a moment in its history that will be recorded in the history books for years to come," Reno said. "It is a great nation because we have learned from our past experiences."