Japanese American Internees Get First Checks From Government
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General Dick Thornburgh today gave nine of the oldest Japanese Americans interned during World War II checks for $20,000 and a letter signed by President Bush apologizing for their wrongful detention.
The presentations to a group of elderly men and women that included a 107- year-old retired minister were made at an emotional ceremony at the Justice Department that evoked the painful memories of the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in 1942.
The checks are the first to be paid over the next three years to an estimated 65,000 survivors of the internment, which was ordered during World War II as a national security measure.
Thornburgh crouched on bended knee to hand the $20,000 checks to several of the elderly recipients who were mostly seated in wheelchairs.
Decades of lobbying by Japanese American organizations culminated in today’s ceremony in which the first recipients were handed checks by Thornburgh along with the letter signed by Bush expressing the nation’s apology.
″A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories; neither can they fully convey our nation’s resolve to rectify injustice and to uphold the rights of individuals,″ Bush said in the letter handed to each of the elderly recipients.
In 1988, Congress passed a law issuing a formal apology to those interned and authorized the payment of $20,000 to every men, woman or child held in concentration camps for the duration of the war.
But Congress did not appropriate any money to begin making payments until this year. Lawmakers set aside $500 million to pay all those over age 70 this year with subsequent payments of $500 million in the 1992 fiscal year and an estimated $250 million in the 1993 fiscal year.
″I am not unmindful of the role the Justice Department played in the internment,″ Thornburgh said, alluding to government orders in 1942 to round up Japanese Americans and place them in internment camps.
The attorney general praised those who lobbied for the compensation, saying ″your efforts have strengthened this nation’s Constitution by reaffirming the inalienability of civil rights.″
″Even when that system failed you, you never lost your faith in it,″ Thornburgh said.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a Japanese American who lost an arm while fighting World War II, called the event ″a happy and glorious day for America.″
″I think on this day we honored ourselves. We demonstrated to the world we are a strong people, strong enough to admit our wrongs.″
Mamoru Eto, 107, of Santa Monica, Calif., a retired minister, delivered an invocation in Japanese. His son, David Eto, 59, said his son was ″very excited″ to make the trip to Washington to participate in the ceremony.
Eto said his father ″basically feels the government is making an effort to be fair.″
Ceremonies will be held in nine other cities this week to distribute more checks to elderly Japanese Americans eligible to receive compensation.