More than 100 Japanese-Americans wound up a conference Sunday by traveling to the Topaz Internment Camp in Delta, where thousands of people of Japanese descent were detained during World War II.
They were welcomed by Delta Mayor Don Dafoe, who told them he hoped they and others would return when the Topaz Museum project now under way is completed.Last year, Sheridan Tatsuno of Aptos, Calif., stood in the Millard County desert gazing at the camp.
That's where he met Don Seiki, Long Beach, Calif., one of the 500 Japanese-Americans of the famed 442nd Battalion who fought a deadly battle against the Nazis in Italy. When the smoke cleared, only 17 were left alive and Seiki had lost his left arm.
Although Tatsuno, 46, was born after the war, he and Seiki shared the injustice, the brutality and the racism all too acutely as they beheld the Topaz Internment Camp where thousands of Japanese-American citizens languished through World War II.
The government ordered their detention, saying they presented a security risk.
"This man was a member of the most highly decorated outfit in U.S. military history, but he didn't have to go, none of them did," Tatsuno said Friday while waiting to appear as a panelist at the national convention of the Japanese-American Citizens League the Salt Lake Marriott Hotel.
"But they did because this is our country," he said. And finally, he said, America has begun to acknowledge the sacrifice and tyranny that some of its finest citizens experienced during the war years.
Toshio Hoshide said they should learn the lesson there that without communication between people of all races, concentration camps will continue to thrive.
Ted Nagata, an award-winning Salt Lake area graphic designer, was 6 when he arrived at Topaz with his parents and sister. He remembers well the contrast of the desert to his family home in northern California.
At 85, Hoshide is the oldest member of the JACL. He was in his early 30s when he and his wife were interned at Heart Mountain, Wyo. Now living in Washington, D.C., Hoshide was born in the United States and found himself among 11,000 other Japanese-Americans trying to survive extreme cold, bad housing, few blankets and 21/2 ounces of meat a day.
Both men said that when the government agreed to compensate them 42 years later, the $20,000 a person was a token gesture. The apology from President Bush meant more.
But neither the apology nor the money will erase the psychological scars left by interning Japanese-Americans, said Hoshide, who retired from U.S. government service after 43 years.
"Twenty thousand's a pretty good salve," Hoshide said. "But I don't think anybody would sell their freedom for $20,000."