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Oregon to Dedicate Nisei Veterans WWII Memorial Highway

by Eric Ballinger and Linda Tamura
June 2022, Volume 73, Issue 6

SALEM – A Bill passed by the Oregon state legislature will dedicate a highway in honor of brave Oregon Japanese American World War II veterans was signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday, June 1, at the state capitol in Salem.

With Brown’s signature, State Highway 35, a 41-mile byway that runs between I-84 in Hood River and Highway 26 near Government Camp, will be dedicated as the Oregon Nisei Veterans World War II Memorial Highway.  Senate Bill 1509A proposed the dedication of the highway and was introduced during the 2022 state legislative session and passed unanimously by the Senate and House.

A proponent of the legislation, author and emerita professor, Dr. Linda Tamura, said her father and uncle fought two battles during World War II—one for equality and justice at home and one against the enemy overseas. This was after they and other Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) were forced from their homes in the Hood River valley.

“They paved the way so Highway 35 can become a highway of gratitude and remembrance,” Tamura said.

During World War II and the post-war recovery, more than 33,000 Nisei served with honor and distinction in the United States military, of which approximately 150 were from Oregon and about 60 specifically from Hood River County.  Their collective service came despite federal Executive Order 9066 issued in February 1942 that directed that Japanese Americans be removed to government-built camps.  Nevertheless, Nisei men and women wanted to prove their loyalty to their country and were later allowed to serve in the U.S. military.

Many Nisei Americans served in the Army’s famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in Europe, which remains the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.  Nisei also served in the Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as linguists in the war with Japan in the Pacific Theater.  Female Nisei served in Army Nurse Corps and Women’s Army Corps.

Eric Ballinger’s grandfather, Harry Morioka, was living in The Dalles when the Army ordered his family to be removed.  It was from the Tule Lake incarceration camp in Northern California that Morioka volunteered for the U.S. Army where he served as a linguist with the MIS.

“This highway dedication is a reminder of the incredible sacrifice that the Nisei generation went through to be in this country.  They gave everything they had in the struggle for freedom and liberty,” Ballinger said.

Joining Ballinger, Tamura, and the bill’s co-sponsors, State Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R- Hood River), Rep. Anna Williams (D-Hood River), and retired Army Lt. Col. Dick Tobiason of the Bend Heroes Foundation at the ceremonial signing was Nisei veteran Yoshiro Tokiwa. Drafted at age 18 from the camp in Poston, AZ, he served as a technician with the 442nd RCT Service Company in Europe.

A highway dedication ceremony is slated for Aug. 13 in Hood River.  A tax-deductible donation can be made for this project online at pdxjacl.org/niseivetshwy.  Or, by mailing a designated check payment made out to American Legion Post 22 to:  American Legion Post 22, Cdr. Carl Casey, PO Box 1803, Hood River, OR 97031.