Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island were among the first to be deported to internment camps under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. How many internment camps would be needed today?
I LIVE on Bainbridge Island, a mile down the road from the Eagle Dale Ferry Dock. It was from this dock on March 20, 1942, that 227 of our neighbors, half of them children, were forced to leave their homes for relocation camps.
They were marched at bayonet point to the ferry Kehloken and allowed to take with them only what they could carry or wear. One family, the Nakatas, here since 1921, carried an American flag. Their son, along with the sons of five other families marching beside them, were United States soldiers fighting for our liberty.
Our neighbors, some who had lived here for 30 or 40 years, were the first in the country under Executive Order 9066 to be removed. The order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt paved the way for deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.
Got something to say about a topic in the news? We’re looking for personal essays with strong opinions. Send your submission of no more than 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “My Take.”
Given only six days notice, the Bainbridge Islanders were forced to abandon their homes and their belongings, their businesses, their farms, and their community because they were Japanese Americans. Nikkei.
But they were a part of our community then, as they are now. The Suyematsu family was taken away but they returned and their farm is still here. Mr. Harui had to leave but his famous Bainbridge Gardens, rejuvenated by his son Junkoh and his wife, Chris, is now framed by the Japanese red pines that grew from seeds thrown to the winds in 1942.
The land for one of our public schools was donated by the Sakai family and holds its name. The market where I shop every day began with the work of two island families, the Loverichs and the Nakatas. Jitsuzo and Shima Nakata carried the American flag to the ferry that day. Many have seen the 1942 photo of Fumiko Hayashida, her baby in her arms, tags dangled from their clothes to identify them as dangerous aliens. I recently saw her niece showing island visitors around our local museum.
Our Bainbridge Islanders were the first made to leave, but by the end, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in the United States were forced out of their homes and into camps.
We had 10 of those camps 75 years ago. How many camps and deportations would we need for our “illegal’ neighbors today? For religions and colors we don’t approve of. How many walls? I think about this when I hear songs of peace and goodwill and wonder how one honors these ideals now.
I think it’s done in simple ways. In the summer of 1945, Japanese Americans were allowed to return home. Frank Kitamoto initially came by himself to see if he and his wife and four children would be welcome, if they could again have a home here.
A local lawyer, Genevieve Williams, recognized him on the ferry. Without a word she remained by his side as they disembarked the boat and stayed close by as he walked through downtown.
The Kitamotos were the second family to return to the island. More than half of our families returned. Because this is our history, we built a memorial to keep the injustice of that sad day in memory: a 276-foot wall of red cedar, granite and basalt curving along that 1942 ferry dock site.
If you visit, you will see it is inscribed with the names of all 276 Japanese Americans who were ultimately removed from our island, and also some fine words to live by: Nidoto Nai Yoni. Let It Not Happen Again.