Posted on February 20, 2009

Events Commemorate Unjust WWII Japanese Detention

Jesse Washington, AP, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

Kristine Minami was in college before she learned that her father, grandmother and uncle had been essentially jailed by the U.S. government for the crime of being Japanese.

The detention of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II was not discussed in Minami’s household. She learned about it in the 1980s through the National Day of Remembrance, which was observed around the country Thursday.


Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, giving the government power to uproot entire innocent communities due to fears of “sabotage and espionage.”

In 1988, President Reagan signed a law that apologized and paid $20,000 to each survivor.


The remembrance also serves as a sort of conscience, a reminder of the balance between security and civil rights in the era of global terrorism, Guantanamo Bay and expanded government wiretapping.

“It shows the fragile nature of our civil and constitutional rights, and the importance of holding people accountable and remaining vigilant,” said Gordon Aoyagi, a board member of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, which was holding a panel discussion in Washington D.C. on Thursday to mark the occasion.


[Mary] Murakami was 14 when she saw a notice posted on a telephone pole outside her San Francisco home saying that all Japanese families would be “evacuated” and taken to camps.

Her parents, fearful that they would be separated from their children, took a portrait of themselves and gave a copy to each child. Murakami still has the photo.

Families were told to take only what they could carry. The Murakamis and other families stored their belongings in their church, but thieves soon broke the door down and ransacked the storage room.

Murakami lived with her family behind barbed wire at a camp on a dry Utah lake bed. Instead of sharing family meals, they ate in a mess hall. Toilet stalls faced each other and had no doors. She slept on an Army cot, the family’s single room warmed by a potbellied stove.

In 1943 the government decided to test the loyalty of the detainees with a questionnaire, Murakami remembers. One of the questions was, “Would you be willing to serve in the U.S. Army?” Her brother answered “yes” and was drafted out of the detention camp.

After three years of confinement, Murakami’s family was released. They were given $25 each to start over.


On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 directing the Department of War, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy to imprison Japanese and Japanese-Americans at various locations within the borders of the United States without any suspicion of wrongdoing other than race or national origin.

After Executive Order 9066 was signed, Gen. John DeWitt signed Proclamation 1 and 2 on March 2, 1942, that established a specific geographical area on the West Coast where much of the Japanese population resided. {snip}


During this time, an all-Japanese-American Army unit was formed: the 442nd Combat Regiment Team, including the 100th Infantry Division and the Military Intelligence Service comprised of the Nisei–second generation Japanese-Americans who enlisted from within the camps. {snip}

After the war ended in the Pacific Theater in 1945, the interned Japanese-Americans were released. Some who wished to return to their original homes found they could not because their homes were disposed of while others, choosing not to return to racism and hatred moved to other geographical areas. Each of these Americans still encountered prejudice, hate and mistrust because of unfounded fear of their race alone.

It took many decades to dispel false beliefs, but life lessons still need to be brought to light. For this day in history is remembered in that others are our equals, that we must learn from the mistakes of history of these horrendous events which occurred on our own soil. {snip}

Bob Nakamura, president of the Olympia chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, is a retired U.S. Army finance corps noncommissioned officer. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, Nakamura can be reached at