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 by Frank Shortt
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C
Manzanar
Entrance
Desolate conditions below eastern Sierras
        Memorial day has come and gone. It brings memories of a whole race of people living peaceful lives on the west coast of America suddenly uprooted by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
        On a beautiful day, May 21, 2013, my wife and I began a road trip south on Hwy 395 in the eastern Sierras. The last leg of our trip was to the WW2 internment camp known as Manzanar.
        Manzanar lies below mountains of grandeur. One could hardly imagine that a place with such surrounding splendor could be so full of sad memories and heartache for 11,000 human beings or their ancestors. Yet, the history remains.
The Watchtower
        As one enters the compound, he is greeted by the watch tower which once held guards with machine guns guarding American citizens. This reminds us that as governments change, so does the climate change for many people who are considered ‘different’. The devastation of war makes enemies of even the closest neighbors. Disparaging remarks are exchanged by friends who had been children together, attended the same schools and churches, and even slept over each other’s homes. This is true all over the world.
        This sadness was all brought about by Executive Order 9066 signed by, then President Roosevelt, in Feb. 1942. There have been two opposing views as to why this happened. One view says that these 11,000 humans were placed at Manzanar for their own protection. The second view says that there might have been those who were loyal to the Emperor of Japan and could cause acts of aggression if left on the West Coast. Had the facts been reviewed, there had not been one act of aggression by a Japanese citizen since the December 7th catastrophe.
        Not only were the folks placed at Manzanar, there were other places of containment throughout the country. Some of the most memorable were, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, and Jerome in Arkansas. This has left a stain on the American Flag, which several presidents since have tried, without completeness, to make restitution to the Japanese citizens who were involved. How can one erase a memory of a terrible injustice, no matter how much money is pumped into an act of restitution? The memory will remain as long as there is a Japanese citizen in America. Some folks I have known personally were the Tsukamotos, Horios, Ikedas, Yamashitas, Masudas, Murakamis, and a host of others I have met through the years.
Barracks of wood and tarpaper
Interior of barracks showing bunks and straw mattresses
        “We were herded into bleak wood barracks, male and female, no conveniences being provided as to sex. We used the same toilets, which were about 24 inches apart, with no partitions. Eventually, makeshift sheets were tacked up between the toilets to provide a small amount of privacy. The beds were old WW1 army cots and we had to fill out own mattresses with straw provided by the guards.” (Quote from one of the internees).
        It is hard to imagine being taken to a strange place when one has worked their whole lives to find a place in a new land. Businesses were disrupted, homes were taken and sold, land was lost (unless a caring neighbor chose to pay the taxes and maintain the land). Life for thousands of human beings came to a standstill because of one country’s aggression against another. Could this happen again? Could one race of people or religious group in America be once again rounded up like cattle and forced to go to a strange place in the desert far from friends and relatives?
        It is my prayer that this never happens again. This author extends his sympathetic, heartfelt, personal, restitutional apology to all citizens of Japanese ancestry. Let us remember that Memorial Day is for all people, regardless of race, sex, religion or country of national origin. May we stand together for the freedoms so succinctly stated in our U.S. Constitution. May we never allow another Manzanar as long as the Stars and Stripes fly overhead.
The author with Japanese volunteer at center, one of the Internees who was taken to Manzanar at age 7 until he was eleven.