Legacy Fund Spotlight Article
Salt Lake JACL is fortunate to have received funding from the JACL Legacy Fund to promote the Redress Project at the Topaz Museum. the Topaz Museum. Topaz was one of the nine War Relocation Camps during World War II where approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were relocated after being evacuated from the west coast. The story of these camps has become better known after President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and President George H.W. Bush issued a formal apology and token monetary compensation to all former internees. However, the events and causes of this tragic page in history must never be forgotten. If we can understand what occurred and why, we can ensure that a similar denial of civil rights will never happen to any future generation of Americans.
The Topaz Museum Board, a non-profit, volunteer organization, owns 634 acres of the Topaz site, which was one square mile. The camp begins at 10000 West 4500 North, 16 miles outside of Delta, Utah. The Topaz Museum is located at 55 West Main, Delta, Utah. Daily hours are 11:00 to 5:00. Closed on Sundays. There is no admission fee, but donations are encouraged. Please visit the Topaz Museum and the Internment site. It is well worth the visit.
December 2017 Spotlight Article by Jefferson Itami, incarceree at Heart Mountain.
MY MEMORY AND ATTENDANCE OF THE 1988 INVITATION TO THE WHITE HOUSE BY PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN FOR THE HISTORIC SIGNING OF H.R. 442 & S 1009 INTO PUBLIC LAW 383-100: THE REDRESS BILL AND LETTER OF APOLOGY FOR THE WRONGFUL INCARCERATION OF JAPANESE-AMERICANS DURING WORLD WAR II.
By Jefferson K. Itami, former Incarceree Nr. 37009C
It began when I was invited to represent the Intermountain District Council of the Japanese-American Citizens League as one of two Redress Coordinators along with Mr. Hid Hasegawa, Idaho Falls Chapter. I am with the Salt Lake Chapter of J.A.C.L.
My wife, Linda, and I drove to Seattle, Washington to attend the August 1988 Biennial National Council of Japanese-American Citizens League Convention on the campus of the University of Washington. We were housed in dormitories sharing four person rooms with colleagues from I.D.C. Governor Randy Harano and his wife, shared the rooms with Linda and me.
At the Opening Welcome reception, the National Japanese-American Citizens League – Legislative Education Committee (J.A.C.L. – L.E.C.) had put up two display boards listing each of the proposed persons who were invited to attend the upcoming Redress Bill signing ceremony at either the Rose Garden (144 persons), or, the White House Little Theater (75 persons). Linda came onto the large reception patio and realized that I was wearing a navy blue blazer, grey or tan slacks, black dress shoes, white dress shirt and red necktie with tiny pattern as were several hundred other Japanese-American delegates and she couldn’t tell which one was me! Afterwards, we agreed that it seemed to be akin to a ‘uniform’ for our group.
The announcement came the next day while we were in a National Council session that President Reagan had decided to use the White House theater in which to hold the Redress combined bill signing ceremony, so, the seventy-five listed persons were invited to this event. Fortunately, for me, I was on both of the lists, so, when the travel agency set up an office to secure round trip tickets on a ‘red eye’ flight that evening to Washington, D.C. for the signing ceremony, I cleared it with Linda, then, went to see our Salt Lake Chapter Coordinator, Ms. Alice Kasai, and asked her about going. She assured me that the chapter would support my travel and so I got in line and thrilled by the antici- pation of attending the historic (for our group) event obtained my round trip tickets.
I took a gym bag in which I neatly folded my J.A.C.L. ‘uniform’, put on a pair of clean shorts, and went to the Sayonara Banquet dressed in a golf shirt, windbreaker, Dockers, and white leather sneakers. We seventy-five were like special operations troops preparing for a clandestine operation in a distant objective as we took seats. Even our ‘casual’ clothing was so similar it was noticeable. I rarely cannot recall a meal, but, I cannot recall what we had that evening. We were quietly called out and assembled on the curb to clamber into waiting busses that transported us to SeaTac Airport. My first trip to Washington D.C. from there and my return there are bare memories!
Our flight to Washington D.C. had a layover in the middle of the night in Salt Lake City of all places! It was the same on our return flight, but, I got off of the plane and went into the corridor and used a pay phone to call my pal, Kevin Aoki. He finally answered the phone and I happily announced I was en route to Washington D.C. to a White House signing ceremony of the Redress Bill. He asked me, “Do you know what time it is?” I said, ‘Yep, it’s about 3 a.m.’, and he hung up.
My Co-Coordinator from Intermountain District Council, Mr. Hid Hasegawa, Idaho Falls Chapter of J.A.C.L. was also on board. I didn’t actually see him until after we’d landed in Washington National Airport, changed in the public Men’s restroom into our formal ‘uniforms’ and had taken different shared taxi rides (groups of five) to the Sam Rayburn Building and was seated oddly enough at the same table of ten with him that I saw good ole Hid! I still remember his cheery, happy face.
Congressman Norm Mineta hosted our chopped chicken salad luncheon in the Congressional Dining Room. He came to greet us and gave us words of encouragement, none of which I retained, but, a fellow witness asked him, “Mr. Congressman Mineta, do you know exactly how the signing ceremony will go?” He smiled and replied, “No, this is my first one as well.” That went over well!
After we’d finished luncheon, one of the members of our group from another table informed us that there was a post office inside of the building and we could get postcards and have them hand stamped for that historic day as a memento like no other! So, a number of us went downstairs, purchased post cards for those whose addresses we knew like my parents, my home address and the like and mailed them with the ‘hand stamped’ date and place! Oh, yeah, I don’t know where that particular ‘treasure’ is now.
Then, we repeated the fleet of team taxis transer to the Old Executive Office building which is across the street from the White House. We were guided into that building where we entered into a ‘rite of passage’ that included lining up, showing picture identification – in most cases our Driver’s License, being checked IN on the pre-approved list of seventy-five, taken to elevators and went down four floor underground where we were lead through tunnels ‘into the spaces under the White House’ to the theater where the ceremony took place.
When you hear about ‘layers’ of bureaucracy in the Federal Government, they are speaking literally as the Sam Rayburn building went down underground eighteen or more floors to a large armory and fifty station shooting range where I traded police shoulder patches with a Lieutenant of the Capitol Police. The ‘Capitol Police Patches’ I obtained will come into play a bit later on…just keep them in mind.
So, we were technically speaking, ‘in’ the White House theater albeit four floors underneath it. I read an article in the Pacific Citizen by another attendee who remembered entering the Old Executive Office building and was confused by it so they were under the impression we’d never been ‘in’ the White House theater, but they were incorrect. This may explain their confusion.
Later when I was attending an advanced fingerprint identification school at the F.B.I. Academy in Quantico, Virginia, several police officers and I did take an actual tour of the White House first floor historic rooms and the semi-basement gift shop, so, I’ve been on three different levels within the building. I don’t know how many floors under-ground the building actually contains and I don’t want to know it either.
The theater entryway came right off of the corridor and the upper back was wide with two sets of stairs descending the steeply raked rows of seats trapped between them.
There was a small stage centered in front of the seats and was the focal point of attention. A small table was situated on the front, left side of the stage facing us with a chair behind it. A single microphone stand with a white placard laid on the floor behind it. There were other white placards lying on the floor in various places and when the sponsoring Congressional Representatives and Senators entered from stage left, they looked down at the placards and stood where they were located. Congressman Barney Frank examined the single placard behind the microphone and stepped forward without a word, picked it up and placed it in an inner jacket coat pocket. (Remember this fact!)
We sat pretty well jammed together in various rows facing the silent theater. I was sitting next to Hid Hasegawa on my right and another person I didn’t know on my left about two thirds of the way up. There were perhaps three or four rows behind us. So, we had a clear view directly in front as the distance from seats to stage wasn’t very much or far. I’m not sure after this many years how many feet or yards.
An aide stepped out and announced, “The President of the United States of America!”, we all stood up and applauded as President Ronald Reagan entered smiling and waved his famous ‘hand wave’ to us. It was a wonderful moment.
He stepped to the microphone and withdrew a piece of folded paper from his inside breast pocket and unfolded it prior to reading his short speech. He began by talking about a ‘certain young Captain in the U.S. Army during WWII, who accompanied his commanding officer, General Maxwell Stillwell to an Incarceration Camp to present a Gold Star mother in that camp with the folded flag of our nation and the medal her son was awarded for his valor he earned as he gave his life in service to his country.’ The President paused, then, continued explaining that he was that Captain serving as an adjunct officer to the General and recalled the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about ‘all blood spilled in the service of our nation doesn’t recognize the color of the donor, but is blended with their brothers-in-arms and is of the same color, red.’ He stopped, folded and replaced his speech and announced, ‘that he would now sign the long overdue apology and redress the wrongful incarceration and deprivation of our Constitutional Rights. Before he began signing the bills H.R. 442 and S. 1009 into Public Law 383-100, he acknowledged the 100 year old Gold Star mother of a Nikkei soldier who’d perished during the war. He knelt at the edge of the stage and shook her hand and personally thanked her for the sacrifice of the life of her son. It was a very emotional and touching moment.
He then took his place on the chair at the table as aides set a pile of copies of the bill before him, folding each copy to the correct page and discreetly indicating where he was to sign. The president picked out a pen from the box, spun the lid off of it and signed the first copy and replacing the cap as that copy was handed to the appropriate sponsoring legislator as well as the pen used to sign the bill. Aides subsequently removed the caps and the process was repeated until each legislator had their copy of the bill, finally he signed one for the Congressional Record, one for the Smithsonian, and one for his presidential library and placing the final pen into his pocket. It was amazing to watch history being made in front of us in this manner. Finally, he rose from his chair, shook hands with the congressional delegation and turning gave us his fabulous smile and waved once more as he exited stage left. Just as magically, all of the massed cameramen and reporters vanished while we were clapping and shaking hands amongst ourselves.
We returned through the tunnel back to the Old Executive Office building and took another fleet of taxis to the East End of the National Capitol building where young congressional aides were guiding groups of arriving Nikkei around the building to an entryway into the building.
As another Nikkei gentleman and I were walking towards the end of the building, I glanced inside through the thick glass door panels and noticed that the interior guards were also wearing navy blue blazers, grey slacks, black shoes and the white shirt, red necktie combination, but they had the Capitol Police patch emblazoned on the left breast pocket area. I took out my patch, clapped it onto my woolen jacket where it stayed in place, tapped on the glass and waved to the interior guard who saw me and my companion, whose name I don’t know and didn’t know, and opened the door for us. As we entered I inquired where the party was, the officer indicated a room where saw a group of folks entering and joined them, after entering, I removed the patch and got a soft drink just as Congressman Barney Frank withdrew the white placard from his pocket and commented that the other placards indicated where they were to stand, but, seeing one behind the microphone where the President was to stand was ridiculous and he showed us the President’s Name placard! We all got a chuckle out of that.
Afterwards, all the handshaking, thanking our congressional representatives and senators, happy talking and so on, we returned to Washington National Airport by fleet taxis, retrieved our small bags from the lockers, verified we each had our own as they looked so much alike and flew back to Seatac, stopping, of course, in Salt Lake City again. I had a fleeting idea to just stay, but, that meant poor Linda would have to drive home alone, and I did not get off of the plane for a break as I needed the sleep! We had a very nice drive home after a short visit with my Uncle Hisashi and Aunt Margaret Mukumoto. He’s the younger brother of my mother and had served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and had received a number of medals – one of those well decorated veterans of the 442nd who’d been in Camp Shelby when the unit arrived for their training. He was working in the post liquor store because he wouldn’t steal and sell liquor out the back door as his predecessors had.
One sad item to report, poor Linda pulled her wrist and had to have an operation for it when she single-handily dragged our heavy suitcases out to the car before driving to Uncle and Aunt’s condominium where she was waiting for me to return.