BY THE EDITOR: When I was a very young child growing up in Los Angeles, in the spring following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my mother and I, along with two or three neighbor women, walked to the nearest cross street where families of Japanese descent lined up with suitcases and oddly shaped bundles. As busses arrived, in a patient and orderly manner they hustled their children and bundles aboard these busses. My mother and her friends were perplexed at these sights and spoke in hushed voices, as they did not know what was happening, why this mass exodus of these quiet people was taking place.
As years passed, I became aware that Executive Order 9066 had been signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, ultimately giving authority to the Secretary of War to establish internment sites for all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. This was a time when the average person did not question The President or The Government. Upwards of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast alone were at first taken to temporary internment sites at racetracks and fairgrounds. They would later be taken to one of ten internment sites surrounded by barbed wire for the duration of the war, in locations so barren and desolate that most, even more than half a century later, have not been utilized for agriculture or development. Each family had one room in barracks made of wood and tar paper.
For most of those interned, this became four years of not knowing how long they would be in the camp, how they would be treated when they left the camps, where they would go at the end of the war. In the majority of cases, possessions and property were "taken" and not returned when the camps were closed. Due to individual circumstances, members of the same family sometimes were sent to different camps. At that time, Japanese born outside the United States could not become citizens; however, many of these internees were natural-born citizens of the United States and this went against all they had been taught about the Constitution.
After the war, the camps began closing and the internees gradually returned to neighborhoods and schools. Many young people went to colleges in other states. Why did we not hear more about this through the years? Perhaps because of the shame felt by the older internees who felt they had not taken care of their families or felt betrayed or just hoped to move on and put this time behind them. Perhaps because after World War II the horrors of the holocaust in Germany took precedence and it happened somewhere else.
No person of Japanese ancestry was convicted of espionage or sabotage during this period and over 25,000 of Japanese ancestry served in the U.S. armed services during World War II as translators and fighters. The 442nd Combat Team, all of Japanese ancestry, fought in Europe and had more casualties and more decorations than any other unit of its size. Over four decades later, President Regan offered a presidential apology and $20,000 to camp survivors.
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