clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

D.C. park to honor internees

Nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans - men, women and children - were forced into camps far from home at the start of World War II, guarded by armed sentries and barbed wire.

Three U.S. presidents have since apologized. Now, a group of Japanese-Americans hopes to honor the memory of those held with a small remembrance park near the Capitol, consisting of cherry trees, a bell tower and two cranes trapped in barbed wire."It was hardest on the older people," said Cherry Tsutsumida, executive director of the private group raising money for the memorial. "But what we have to remember is to be grateful that our country is different - we can make mistakes and admit it and then try to correct them."

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii - who lost an arm fighting for the United States in the war - and former Rep. Norman Y. Mineta, D-Calif., pressed for the memorial, and Congress authorized it in 1992.

The National Capital Planning Commission is expected to give preliminary approval to its design soon. Some details may change as a result of that hearing and from subsequent suggestions by other government agencies.

Groundbreaking is due in 1999 after the private National Japanese American Memorial Foundation finishes collecting $8.6 million.

Melvin H. Chiogioji, a retired rear admiral who is chairman of the foundation's board, said the collection has only just started, but he doesn't anticipate much difficulty.

"We've got about a third of it already," he said, "and there's a lot of enthusiasm in the community."

The park will have a low profile, only three-quarters of an acre in a big landscaped area between the Capitol and Union Station.

Plans call for a line of low Japanese cherry trees, a circular fountain with a statue of two long-beaked cranes gripped by barbed wire and a narrow 28-foot bell tower that will recall Japanese temple bells.

"The striking of the bell will provide the visitor with a solemn and intimate experience," said J. Carter Brown, chairman of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission.

Tsutsumida, the foundation's executive director, was 7 at the time of Pearl Harbor - a third-grader in Guadalupe, Calif. Her mother had died. Her father, a farmer, was sent to a camp in Santa Fe, N.M., and she was taken to another on the Gila River in Arizona, about 400 miles away.

"There must have been a river somewhere," she said, "but what I remember is the desert all around - the isolation."

It was more than two years before her father could join her, and another two until they were released.

"He tried to farm there," she recalled, "but it wasn't like California." Soyomatsu Tsutsumida died in Arizona in 1961, aged 72.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, bringing the United States into the war, the U.S. government detained people of Japanese ancestry in internment camps as a national security measure.

Of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to camps, two out of three were Nisei, or native-born U.S. citizens. The rest were Issei, Japanese immigrants barred from citizenship by law.

"They were deprived of their freedom," says a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History, "yet there had been no evidence of any guilt, no formal accusation and no trial."

In 1988, Congress approved reparations of $20,000 to those sent to camps.