Japanese Americans forced to live in internment camps during WWII tell a painful story


In an effort to recognize the survivors of the Japanese American World War II incarceration camps for their sacrifice and to honor their legacy and memory, Justice Johnny Gogo, Judge of the California Superior Court in San José, got two 48-star American flags from WWII. with the intention of having them signed by the survivors. Yukiko Sugiyama, 100, was at the Poston internment camp in Yuma. She signed the flag at the San Diego Buddhist Temple on Sunday, September 19, 2021 (KC Alfred, The San Diego Union-Tribune / TNS)

(Tribune News Service) – A Santa Clara County judge is on a mission to honor Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps during World War II – most of whom were U.S. citizens and residents of California – by having them sign their names on historic flags.

On Sunday, Judge Johnny Gogo brought two old 48-star American flags to the San Diego Buddhist Temple and asked former camp inmates and their family members to sign their names on the fabric. Gogo hopes that one day one of the flags will be accepted and displayed by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

The American flag had 48 stars until 1959, when the states of Hawaii and Alaska were added to the union.

Gogo said he was interested in the story originally as part of an outreach effort for Fred Korematsu Day, a state holiday signed into California law in 2010. Korematsu declined to comply with the internment order and his case went to the United States Supreme Court. Court where, in 1944, the court confirmed the internment as legal. The decision is widely regarded as one of the court’s worst. Fred Korematsu Day is January 30, his birthday. He died in 2005.

Among the dozen former internees who signed up were those who clearly remembered what happened in the 1940s – and those who were too young to realize what was happening to their families.

Yukiko Sugiyama, 100, was born and raised in Brawley, California, but was living in Oceanside when the order came from the US government, she said. She was 21 and barely a month after graduating from what is now called MiraCosta College, when she, like thousands of other Japanese Americans, was forced to leave her life behind.

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the forcible internment of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. They were dispersed in 10 camps, mainly in the west. Sugiyama was sent to one of three camps in Poston, Arizona.

“We didn’t know where we were going to go,” she said. ” What are you going to do ? You cannot fight the government.

Sugiyama added his name to one of the two flags that Gogo brought. He has so far traveled to Washington, Utah, Hawaii, Idaho and California to collect names on flags at similar events. He has already filled one and another is almost full. Most signatories sign on the stripes. The stars, Gogo said, are reserved for internees who then served in the military.

Hank Wada, 93, said he tried to join the Marines instead of going to camp in 1942 – when he was 14 – but was rejected because he was of origin Japanese.

“I had to wait until 1946,” Wada said. “I left the camp in 1945.”

Wada then served in the Marines from El Toro Air Force Base and fought in the Korean War. He said he wanted to come and sign the flag to keep alive the memory of the injustice of the camps.

“I thought it was my job to sign the flag and let everyone know what happened,” Wada said. “There are so many people who don’t know what happened to us because it’s been too long and we haven’t had a lot of publicity.”

Bacon Sakatani, 92, lives in West Covina, California, but regularly attends flag signing events in Southern California, he said. Sakatani was sent to Heart Mountain Camp in Wyoming in 1942 where he served as a Boy Scout in one of the Camp’s seven active Boy Scout troops. Sakatani then served in the United States Army and also fought in the Korean War. He said he was attending the events because it is important for people to know what happened.

“It is important to tell the American public that we Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly placed in camps during World War II,” he said. “And we have to tell them by putting our names on the American flag just to tell the story of what we’ve been through.”

Kenji Akahoshi, 79, is the temple minister. He was born in Lodi, California, two weeks after his family left their San José home in April 1942. His family ended up in the Camp Amache internment camp in Granada, Colorado. Despite being so young, Akahoshi said internment remains a primary injury among Japanese Americans.

“To be rejected or not to be accepted is a deep psychological scar,” Akahoshi said. “My parents never told us much when we were little. We knew we were in Amache but they didn’t really talk about it.”

Karen Himaka, who is Yukiko Sugiyama’s daughter, said she struggles today with the assumptions people make about Japanese Americans.

“What bothers me is when people look at us they say ‘oh, you’re Asian’,” she said. “I’m an American, born and raised in San Diego. They look at us because we’re different from them.”

Himaka said her mother was still bitter about being pulled away from her life in Oceanside in 1942. Sugiyama agreed, but added that she had learned to live with it over the years.

“I can’t forget it,” Sugiyama said. “But I don’t mind anymore, I’m just living my own life.”

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