Bei Times, May 14, 2002
JACL Ceremony Recognizing WWII Resisters Called a "First Step"
KENJI G. TAGUMA
FRANCISCO -- As he walked onstage to receive recognition for a stand he
took close to 60 years ago, Susumu Yenokida asked for the microphone for
an impromptu speech.
a letter up here, 'dream,'" said Yenokida of Galt, Calif., referring
to an inscription on the wall of the Japanese Cultural and Community
Center of Northern California, where some 400 people had gathered May 11
for the historic occasion. "Never would I ever dream that I would be
here today, 60 years ago."
landmark Japanese American Citizens League ceremony to recognize Nisei
draft resisters of World War II, and apologize to them for not recognizing
their stand sooner, included many such poignant moments.
emotional moments included when Dan Kubo, son of Amache concentration camp
resister Yoshi Kubo, pointed towards the ceiling upon receiving the
recognition onstage by the JACL -- a gesture to his late father. Shortly
thereafter, he pointed to a throng of family members gathered in tribute
to the late family patriarch.
315 resisters challeged the U.S. government draft during World War II,
most of them serving federal prison terms. President Harry Truman
subsequently pardoned them in 1947.
the resisters -- who said they would gladly fight for the country if their
families were released from concentration camps and their citizenship
rights were restored -- the ceremony was vindication. JACL leaders and
others had ostracized the resisters over the years, calling them cowards
and even saying they should be tried for sedition.
hurts when you have your own mankind turn their backs to you, and they
don't want anything to do with you. And instead of a resister, call you a
draft evader," said 76-year-old Seattle resident Gene Akutsu, who
resisted the draft out of the Minidoka, Idaho concentration camp.
"Our sincere feeling was that we have to be treated right, we want
our citizenship rights back, then we would comply."
said 'fight for your home.' (But) we didn't have a home -- the government
took that away and put us into camps," reflected Joe Norikane, 80, of
Pleasant Hill, Calif. "So I said that I'm not going to die for a
Harry Yoshikawa of Gardena, Calif. agreed.
of our citizenship rights," said Yoshikawa, 79. "For them to say
'fight for your country,' I couldn't accept that."
speakers on behalf of the resisters, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee
member Yosh Kuromiya and FPC leader Frank Emi, seized the opportunity to
raise eyebrows with a challenge for even deeper self-reflection by the
terms patriotism and loyalty have been bandied about by this organization
to justify its many self-promoting programs and image-enhancing efforts in
its quest for political empowerment and status as a civil rights
organization," said Kuromiya, of Alhambra, Calif. "Yet its
credibility and acceptance as such remains under a cloud of distrust,
haunted by the betrayals of its predecessors who acted under the guise of
Fair Play Committee beganwhat became the largest organized resistance to
internment within the concentration camps. Some 85 resisters from Heart
Mountain were tried and sentenced to prison terms.
this ceremony is the first step in resolving this second great injustice
perpetrated on Japanese America," Kuromiya added. "Only through
the clear and honest understanding of the true essence of loyalty and
patriotism and an acknowledgment of the unfortunate distortion of those
terms...can we rid Japanese America of this cancerous blight which
victimizes the victims, and has divided our community for over half a
then can the JACL hope to proceed on a clear and unencumbered path as a
bona-fide civil rights organization."
who took to the stage to a standing ovation, issued a stern challenge to
think it would be entirely appropriate for JACL to go one step further and
hold a similar program directed towards the Japanese American community
for the excesses committed by wartime JACL leaders, such as acting as
informants for the government, causing many innocent people to suffer, as
recorded in the 'Lim Report,'" said Emi, referring to the
JACL-commissioned report that documented questionable actions by some JACL
believe such action would finally put to rest JACL's unholy ghosts of the
past and would be a worthy way to start the 21st century," Emi, 85,
concluded. "The United States government apologized for their wartime
excesses. Can the JACL do less?"
the program, Emi expressed regret that late Nisei journalist Jimmie Omura,
who supported the FPC through editorials in the Rocky Shimpo newspaper,
was not mentioned. Omura, who was tried for conspiracy with the FPC
leaders, was so ostracized by the JACL that he lived for decades in a
"They really owe him an apology because they really pounded him," said
Florin JACL President Andy Noguchi, who emceed the resisters ceremony and
served as co-chair of the organizing committee, mentioned that both the
resisters and veterans provided a wealth of role odels.
"My 13-year-old daughter Annie has many role models to choose from," said
Noguchi, a Sansei from Sacramento. "She has my father, among the
courageous Nisei veterans who chose to serve in the MIS (Military
Intelligence Service), the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team) and the 100th
(Battalion). She also has many of the local resisters we've met over the
years...who chose to stand up for the Constitution and went to federal
prison for their beliefs."
spearheaded the passing of a resolution at the 2000 JACL National
Convention in Monterey, Calif. The resolution, which called for a public
ceremony, and the ceremony itself was met with bitter opposition,
primarily from Nisei veterans who opposed an apology.
Retired Rev. Lloyd Wake, who led interfaith efforts for reconciliation on
the issue during the Nikkei 2000 conference, called for healing in the
wake of already turbulent times.
of us, having been the recipients of an apology from our own government,
are grateful of the opportunity to do likewise in apologizing to those who
in the past have been hurt or pushed to the margins of our
community," said Wake, in his invocation. "For the sake of past
and future generations, may each of us today, because of this celebration,
be empowered to continue the process of healing that our community, our
nation, and our world needs so deeply."
ceremony and apology was met with adamant opposition from various Nisei
veteran groups, as witnessed by letters in the Nikkei press.
of my fellow veterans have labeled the draft resistrs as 'cowards' and
'traitors,'" added Inouye. "I however feel the resisters were
brave and patriotic."
Inouye, who urged that the community collectively make a commitment to
healing wartime wounds, ended with a warning and hope for the future.
"If we let angry feelings live and fester, an atmosphere of hate shall
permeate for generations that follow us," he said. "Sadly such discord
would ultimately lead to the divide and downfall of our community. So it
is my sincere hope that this ceremony would mark the beginning of a new
era of unity for Americans of Japanese ancestry."
Uratsu, the president of the Military Intelligence Service Association of
Northern California, also spoke in support of reconciliation.
us remember that it was the failure of our government that caused this
controversy among us in the first place," said Uratsu, an MIS veteran
from El Cerrito. "And so I ask why should we continue to hurt each
other over what the government did to us.
believe reconciliation is a personal matter and people have to reach
reconciliation one individual at a time," said Uratsu. "And so,
I say 'let there be reconciliation and let it begin with me.'"
several Nisei veteran groups boycotted the ceremony, among the audience
members were a handful of Nisei veterans, including MIS veteran Sukeo
"Skeets" Oji. He had been vocally against the apology, even
quitting his membership in the JACL at one point, but altered his
viewpoint once he obtained a better understanding of the issue.
they first passed the resolution I got real upset about it," said
Oji, 84. "I slowly changed my thinking. I understand the position of
the JACL now.
ceremony was appropriate as far as the JACL was concerned," said Oji,
of Walnut Creek, Calif. "As long as they let people know that the
apology comes from the JACL and not other groups. You won't find anyone to
apologize from the vet side."
Oji said he supports community reconciliation
all recognize what the resisters did," said Oji. "They took
their stand, we took our stand."
JACL President Floyd Mori had a brother who died in combat during World
War II. Yet despite the loss, he has come to understand the stand the
resisters took, and the JACL's obligation to apologize.
"At that time, we did not recognize and we neglected to respect the right
of protest and civil disobedience expressed by some who were in the
camps," said Mori. "This neglect has caused many years of mental and
who spent time talking and listening to the concerns of Nisei veterans
opposed to the resolution and ceremony, also spent time last summer at a
conference in Wyoming focused on the resisters.
ceremony is a clear recognition that JACL neglected to support the
resisters of conscience in their protest against injustice," said
Mori. "JACL offers a sincere apology for the painful experiences and
memories caused by that neglect."
Mike Honda (D-San Jose), the ceremony's keynote speaker, said the ceremony
was "a long time coming."
son of an MIS veteran, Honda recognized that there was "more than one
way to respond" to a situation that was "completely out of
"We as Japanese Americans must come together to recognize there were
legitimate and fundamental reasons to resist the draft as a matter of
conscience," Honda said.
Some 24 Nisei resisters -- including four who came last-minute -- were honored by the JACL with plaques. They included:
● From the Heart Mountain concentration camp: Frank Emi, Takashi Hoshizaki, George Ishikawa, the late David Kawamoto (represented by widow Toshiko Kawamoto), Mits Koshiyama, the late Guntaro Kubota (represented by widow Gloria Kubota), George Kurasaki, Yosh Kuromiya, Halley Minoura, Bob Nagahara, George Nozawa and James Uyeda.
Amache: the late Thomas Kawasaki (represented by daughter Joyce Emiko
Kawamoto), the late Yoshi Kubo (represented by son Dan Kubo), Joe Norikane,
Noboru Taguma, Terry Uyemoto, Harry Yoshikawa and Susumu Yenokida and his
late brother Menoru.
● Minidoka: Gene Akutsu, who represented himself and his late brother, Jim Akutsu.
Topaz: Ken Yoshida.
● Jerome: Joe Yamakido
showed up unexpectedly with his daughter. He said he was arrested for
violating the initial curfew orders, being caught by police while hitch
hiking to Fresno from the Los Angeles area, looking for employment.
later resisted the draft from behind barbed wire at the Jerome, Arkansas
"I just refused to go," said Yamakido, 80, currently in Half Moon Bay, Calif. "I told them I'd go if I was given the same rights as the white man. But I'm not given the same rights as the white man so I refused to go.
said he lost 50 pounds awaiting trial in the city jail.
said the ceremony "puts a closure to everything," and he can now
forgive the JACL. Yamakido publicly thanked the veterans for "making
life better" for his children.
was surprised to see some of his fellow Heart Mountain resisters show up.
"They have never come to any meetings," he said, noting the
effects of past ostracism of resisters. "This apology has really
opened the door to those kind of people."
Koshiyama noted the remarks at the ceremony by Nisei veterans were positive, and that resisters were never against the veterans. He also said the resisters never asked for an apology, but were happy to receive one
had three brothers who served in the military, including one in the MIS.
Some resisters, like Takashi Hoshizaki, served in the Korean War.
were out, we had all our rights back, and we were full U.S.
citizens," said Hoshizaki, 76, of Los Angeles, noting the different
event could not have happened 10 years ago," said Frank Abe of
Seattle. "I think it's an amazing reversal from where we've been. You
have to look at the leadership, both Andy Noguchi and Floyd Mori and (JACL
Executive Director) John Tateishi."
Maeda, who has taught ethnic studies for over 30 years at California State
University, Sacramento, sees the reconciliation as a good first step.
think it's the beginning of different groups coming together," said
Maeda, who curated a Sacramento region Japanese American history exhibit
in 1992, one of the first to highlight the resisters" story. "If
the JACL wants to survive, it's good that they began the reconciliation
process. It's only the beginning, but it's a start."
activist Karen Kai, who was part of the Fred Korematsu coram nobis legal
team that helped overturn his wartime conviction, agrees.
think it's a really important step for the community, and particularly for
JACL," said Kai, of San Francisco. "It's very important for
people to see and understand the different responses that people have.
We're not monolithic...There are different responses and it's valid to
said his jaw dropped when Emi suggested the unfinished business of the
take that next step would be for the organization to actually repudiate
the leadership of the JACL in World War II, and I don't think they'll be
able to do that," said Abe. "(But) they put the broader issue
squarely on the table. Now it remains to be seen whether the organization
is able to deal with that."
Updated: May 21, 2002