In 1949, on Memorial Day, the Japanese American community gathered at Lake View Cemetery, Seattle. That Memorial Day service was only four years after the war had ended. And only one year after a campaign led by Yoshito Fuji, in which the Nisei Veterans Committee and supporters started knocking on doors to raise funds for creation of a Memorial for their Nisei brothers lost during the war.
The community was not rich, still trying to get on its feet. People scraped their pockets, giving mostly $1 to $5. What arose from an intense sense of loss and a deep desire to give tribute was a 21-foot granite monument -- not of fancy polished granite, but humbly of what the community could offer up, in deeply felt remembrance written in stone.
On that day, 74 years ago, words were spoken, reaching the ears of those families who were still with grief and memories. Flowers were gently placed down. A newspaper reporter from the Seattle Daily Times wrote that a poignant moment came when Sergeant Frank Matsushina solemnly presented a folded American flag to the father of PFC Masao Ikeda. PFC Ikeda had been officially declared killed in action a few years earlier. The reporter stated that of all the Nisei soldiers honored that day, young Ikeda was the only one whose body was never found.
[Note: in 1951, the bodily remains of PFC Masao Ikeda were found in France and returned to his final resting place at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery, Seattle.]
Another bittersweet moment came when little 6-year-old Jonathan Keith Hashimoto, approached the memorial monument, his widowed mother, Mrs. Amy E. Hashimoto, standing behind him. He reached up and touched the granite monument, knowing that the name of his father, Staff Sergeant John Hashimoto, was there. Looking at a photo of that moment is moving.
Afterwards, little Jonathan’s mother, Amy said, “It doesn’t mean much to John now. But when he grows up, I believe he’ll understand that this moment symbolized our loyalty and that because of what his father and the others did, we live in dignity today.”
That was in 1949. Fast forward to here today. Some of us reading this column come from the same families gathered that day in 1949. We may visit and look at the monument and see the names inscribed. We may even want to reach up to touch.
For this Memorial Day weekend, let us get quiet, stop, Honor and Remember.
[Note: Ms. Erika L. Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President and AAHIPI Senior Liaison will be the keynote speaker on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29th, 10 AM.]