Japanese American Internees Get Apologies, $20,000 Checks
WASHINGTON (AP) _ On bended knee, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh gave checks and letters of apology Tuesday to elderly Japanese Americans who were rounded up and kept in World War II detention camps.
Nine Japanese Americans, including six age 100 and older, received $20,000 checks and letters from President Bush at an emotional ceremony to begin a three-year $1.25 billion program to compensate internees.
Thornburgh knelt as he made the first presentation to Rev. Mamoru Eto, 107, the second-oldest survivor of the internment camps. Eto, of Los Angeles, was seated in a wheelchair.
In a gesture that symbolized the nation’s effort to apologize, Thornburgh dropped to his knees as he gave checks to five other elderly men and women also seated in wheelchairs.
″By forcing us to reexamine our history, you have made us even stronger and more proud,″ Thornburgh told the recipients and those who lobbied to win redress for what Congress eventually acknowledged was ″a grave injustice.″
″Your efforts have strengthened this nation’s Constitution by reaffirming the inalienability of our civil rights,″ the attorney general said.
An estimated 65,000 Japanese Americans are expected to receive $20,000 checks over the next three years under an entitlement program enacted by Congress.
In 1988, Congress passed legislation apologizing for the internment, stating that it was ″motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.″
But it was not until this year that lawmakers appropriated money to begin paying compensation, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest survivors of the detention.
Congress set aside $500 million for the 1991 fiscal year, $500 million for the 1992 fiscal year and an estimated $250 million for the 1993 fiscal year.
Thornburgh praised members of several Japanese American organizations for their efforts within the U.S. system to win redress. ″Even when that system failed, you never lost your faith in it,″ the attorney general said.
For Tsuyako (″Sox″) Kitashima, 72, of San Francisco, the ceremony capped a decade of letter writing and campaigning for the cause.
″Hopefully for myself and thousands of others, this will unburden the stigma of disloyalty,″ said Ms. Kitshima, who expects to receive her check later this year.
Robert Bratt, who headed the Justice Department’s effort to locate eligible survivors and verify their claims, handed a check to his second cousin, 73- year-old Ken Yamamoto of Silver Spring, Md.
Bratt said he found many Japanese Americans were skeptical about the government’s effort.
He recalled ″a large number of Japanese Americans who said: ’I won’t believe until it happens.‴
″Well, it just did,″ Bratt said.
In his letter, Bush said: ″A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories. ... But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II.″
Henry Taketa, 78, a lawyer who was interned in 1942 with his wife, agreed that the payments would not erase everything.
″This gesture will lessen the pain and perhaps heal the wounds, but the scars will remain. I for one cannot forgive and cannot forget that this took place 48 years ago,″ said Taketa, at a news conference held simultaneously in Sacramento, Calif.
″I dedicate my remaining active years to be eternally vigilant that what has happened to the Japanese Americans solely because of what they were and not what they had done will never occur again,″ Taketa said.
In Washington, John Dunne, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, recalled the valor of thousands of Japanese Americans who fought and died in World War II while ″their families waited behind barbed wire, under armed guard, their loyalty to this nation questioned.″
Similar ceremonies are scheduled this week in eight cities with large Japanese American populations as well as in Phoenix, the home of the oldest survivor, a 107-year-old woman who did not make the trip to the nation’s capital.