* Utah's Republican senators split on the vote, with Jake Garn voting against the bill and Orrin Hatch voting for it.
For Rep. Norman Mineta, who spent part of his childhood in a World War II internment camp, the Senate vote for reparations to Japanese-Americans was "unprecedented in the annals of the history of any nation."For Sen. Spark Matsunaga, who spent those same war years fighting with the Army in Europe, it was "long-denied justice" that removed the "one great blot" on the Constitution.
The two Japanese-Americans were on the Senate floor late Wednesday as it voted 69-27 to approve a $1.3 billion bill that would direct the U.S. government to give $20,000 tax-free payments to Japanese-Americans who were rounded up and placed in camps after the Japanese attack Dec. 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor.
They also would get an apology.
Matsunaga, D-Hawaii, estimated that about half the 120,000 internees survive today, although "they're dying daily, weekly of old age."
The elderly would get the money first under the bill's five-year payout plan. But whether they get the money at all will depend on further legislative action and a possible presidential veto.
"It's a very proud day," said Mineta, who was a 10-year-old boy from San Jose, Calif., when war arrived. "I just wanted to be on the Senate floor when it happened.
"The Senate without a doubt gave this country a great day," said Mineta, D-Calif. "I'm only sorry that there weren't more Niseis (Japanese-Americans) living today to be able to see a great nation apologize for its actions. It is, I think, unprecedented in the annals of the history of any nation."
Matsunaga, the bill's chief sponsor, was given the presiding officer's chair so he could personally announce the vote he had fought for years to win.
At the end of the long, emotion-filled debate, he recalled his combat duty with an all-Nisei regiment and the fellow Japanese-American soldier whose death he witnessed.
"I had him cradled in my arms," Matsunaga said. "He said, `Lieutenant, I know I'm going to die, but I don't mind because I know my people back home will be treated as U.S. citizens.' "
Of the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were held in the camps, 77,000 were U.S. citizens, the rest legal and illegal aliens. Many, like Mineta, had been born in the United States.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's other Japanese-American senator, said "These payments acknowledge the unconstitutional deprivation of liberty . . . and the stigma of being deemed unloyal."
Inouye, like Matsunaga, fought in Europe, where combat cost him his right arm and earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest military honor.
The debate triggered other memories in senators who remembered the war.
Some said an apology was in order, but cash payments were not.
Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo., argued that the internment "was not a dishonorable act, it was the option of a nation in the first days of a war."
Even if it was dishonorable, Wallop argued, it would be "repugnant to think a clear conscience is to be had for a mere $20,000 figure . . . honor doesn't come with a dollar sign on it and you don't buy it back."
Sen. Chic Hecht, R-Nev., said: "I cannot in good conscience go back and tell survivors of Bataan, Iwo Jima and all those battles in the South Pacific and tell them we have forgotten you but we are compensating the people who we moved into camps."
Attempts to strip the legislation of the payments failed on votes of 67-30 and 61-35.
The bill was similar to one passed by the House on a 243-141 vote last September. Differences must be resolved with the House before it goes to President Reagan, who is being urged to veto it by the Office of Management and Budget because of the cost.
Matsunaga said he had "mixed reports" from the White House about veto prospects, and Mineta conceded a veto "would be very difficult to override."
Money to pay the surviving internees will be contained in appropriations bills spread over the next five years, with $500 million to be considered as part of the 1989 budget now before Congress.
Also contained in the legislation is a multimillion-dollar package for Aleut Indians who were moved from the Aleutian Islands off Alaska during a Japanese attack in 1942.
About 900 Aleuts were moved from their homes and forced to live in abandoned mines, canneries and camps about 2,000 miles away. Lack of medical care and adequate food contributed to disease and death, and many of their homes were destroyed or vandalized in their absence.
About 450 Aleuts survive and would be eligible for $12,000 payments. Another $20 million would benefit Aleut villages and provide for scholarships and the general welfare of the tribe.