by Sarah Lane with Julie Hall
Saturday’s Japanese American Exclusion Memorial dedication drew hundreds (estimated at 500) of Bainbridge Islanders and many from neighboring communities eager to honor the memory of friends and neighbors forcibly relocated from their homes in 1942 by Executive Order 9066. (Read about the monument here.)
The presentation, emceed by Clarence Moriwaki, who is the former president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial (BIJAEM), was a lengthy but touching affair, punctuated by solemn moments, some tears, and occasional laughter. Moriwaki kept things moving along as distinguished guests told stories from the relocation, about the building of the monument, and about the history of that period.
Frank Kitamoto, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) Executive Board, got things started by reading a list of quotes from participants in the events of 1942 including one by Sam Nakai, who described the relocation of his family: “It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.” He also quoted Walt Woodward who said of the armed soldiers ushering the Japanese Americans onto the ferry that most had tears in their eyes.
Earl Hanson, who was a high school senior in 1942, recalled his anger when he was prohibited from saying goodbye to his friend Jerry Nakata as he was being escorted to the ferry. And Jim Johansson, another classmate of Nakata’s, said he thinks about Jerry every single day of his life. Johansson then read a poem by former classmate Gina Ritchie about the event, titled “The Saddest Day of My Life.”
Mary Woodward, Vice President of BIJAC, is the daughter of Millie and Walt Woodward. The Woodwards were the editors of the Bainbridge Review in 1942. They took a stance in their paper against Order 9066, becoming the only one to do so. Woodward gave the crowds a brief history lesson, saying, “If we don’t know our history, we have no chance of learning from it.” She spoke of a concerted effort on a massive scale to demonize American citizens of Japanese descent, an effort that carried on locally to some extent, partly as an economic ploy to take over productive farmland run by Japanese-American strawberry farmers on the island. She ended her comments with a gesture at the crowd, saying, “A community of voices has strength.”
Local songwriter Rick Barrenger performed “Don’t Fence Me in,” a song that residents of the internment camps had enjoyed singing, imbuing it at the time with a literal meaning. The song served as a transition to a focus on the more recent past and hope for the future. Deborah Hickey-Tiernan, a former member of the Bainbridge Island North Kitsap Interfaith Council, told the history of the formation of the monument committee and the early stages of their work to create the monument.
Karen Yoshitomi, Pacific Northwest Regional Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, focused on the hope-inspiring and longstanding strength of our Bainbridge Island community, recalling how at the Bainbridge High School commencement ceremony in the spring of 1942, 13 chairs sat empty in honor of the high school seniors who had been interned and could not graduate with their class.
Kendee Yamaguchi, the Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, read a letter from Governor Gregoire. And then Sallie Maron, BIJAEM president, spoke briefly about the future plans for the memorial site and announced that Town & Country Market had donated $50,000 toward the construction of the pier, which will be a replica of the one over which the relocated Bainbridge Islanders left the island in 1942. She reminded the crowd that “The way we treat each other is the foundation of community.”
The presentation concluded with the reading of the names of internment survivors in attendance and the whole crowd singing “America the Beautiful.”
Then the survivors, followed by the hundreds of attendees, strolled along the boardwalk toward the gate leading to the memorial wall. Fumiko Hayashida and her daughter Kayo Natalie, who were captured in a well-known photo from the relocation day in 1942, cut the ceremonial ribbon across the gate, officially opening the monument (see the video).
Sally Nishimori Kitano was nine years old in 1942. She said she was too young at the time to completely understand what was happening to her friends and family. For her, it had been “a treat to ride a train,” she said with a laugh. And she and “her friends were always either having fun or fighting.” But then more soberly she said that her older brother would never talk about the relocation because it had been too painful for him.
Susan Hayashida Fujita (known at the time as Toyoko Hayashida) was only a baby when her mother carried her across the pier. Her mother had to use up precious luggage room (internees were allowed to take only one bag each) with diapers. For Fujita, the experience had mostly been about regular childhood fears: She recalled coyotes howling at night outside the camp fence and wind moaning through cracks in the wooden structures of the camp during storms.
But for her parents it was a much different experience. Her father had been separated from the family during the internment, so her mother had to take care of her six children on her own and with help from friends and family. Fujita said that it felt to her as if her parents were ashamed of what had happened to them and spoke little of it. Today, tears filled Fujita’s eyes when she described the dedication ceremony as very moving, “a tribute to the older generation who went through so much.”
Photos by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane.