Forty-three years ago, 3rd District Judge Raymond S. Uno at age 16 was released from a Wyoming internment camp at the end of World War II. That camp cost his family all of its property in California. His father died at the camp.
On Wednesday, Congress apologized to him and the 60,000 other Japanese-American survivors of such camps. The Senate approved a bill that also offers to pay each camp survivor $20,000, tax free.In the wartime frenzy, Japanese-Americans were moved from the Pacific Coast for fear some might spy for Japan. But German- and Italian-Americans were not relocated, even though the nation was also at war with their homelands.
"The bill is long overdue," Uno said. "The action is appropriate considering the years we were in camp and the loss we had. It is really a token amount, considering the amount we lost economically, physically and psychologically."
Uno's reaction was typical of local Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II. They were generally satisfied with the bill, but felt it came late and at this point were a little surprised that it passed.
"Personally, I think it is something that should have been done, but I didn't expect it to pass," said Grace Oshita, whose family was relocated from the coast to the Topaz camp near Delta. "Even when the idea came up initially, I thought it was too late."
Jeanette Misaka, a clinical assistant professor in the University of Utah's special education department, who spent two years in an internment camp, said, "It's never too late to apologize. Because Congress represents the people, I feel this is the will of the people.
"I think it is a positive sign because it shows that even though wrong may be done at one point, it may be reversed. I hope President Reagan will see it that way and sign the bill."
A former Utahn, Mike Masaoka, was in the Senate gallery Wednesday when the bill was passed. "Too long, certainly," Masaoka said. "But better late than never."
In 1942, Masaoka a graduate of West High School and the University of Utah had urged fellow Japanese-Americans to go to the camps voluntarily "because we had no choice."
Masaoka himself only passed through the camp at Topaz, becoming the first Japanese-American to volunteer for the Army and, at one point, he and four of his brothers were in combat at the same time with the famed all-Nisei 442nd regiment, one of the most highly decorated units in World War II.
One brother was killed and another was seriously injured. Another brother, assigned to stay with their widowed mother and two sisters, went into the camps. Masaoka came home from the war with, among other medals, seven battle stars for service in the Italian and French campaigns, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and the Italian War Cross.
Despite his exultation at the vote Wednesday, Masaoka could not suffuse the bitterness of that experience.
"We were incarcerated because . . . of race," Masaoka said, questioning why Italian- and German-Americans had not also been interned. "Our presumption of disloyalty has not been erased until now."
He added about the cash award, "We're going to make the price of racism so expensive that in another time, the government will pause" before striking out against a racial minority."
Perhaps the happiest of all local Japanese-Americans was Uno, who once led a national campaign for such a bill when he was president of the National Japanese-American Citizen League.
He remembers how his family which had never committed a crime had its home in California searched by the FBI when the war broke out, then had all the family members moved to a "reception center" in a fairgrounds at Pomona, Calif.
After three months there, Uno's family was moved to a camp at Heart Mountain, Wyo. While the government also called it a "reception center," it had armed guards and was surrounded by barbed wire.
"It was a concentration camp," Uno said. During Uno's first year there, his father died.
When members of Uno's family were finally released, they had nowhere to go and virtually nothing to start over with because all of their property in California had been confiscated. Because of such hardship, Uno feels the $20,000 offered now is a mere token especially because that amount would go only to camp internees who are still living. Relatives of those who have died would receive nothing.
Misaka adds that besides her family losing physical property, "My parents lost a lot of their potential. They were in their prime, in their early 30s. That is when most people make it or break it. They lost that time in camp."