WASHINGTON – Fumiko Hayashida is 95 now, but she remembers the day 64 years ago when she and her infant daughter, Natalie, were taken from their home at gunpoint and imprisoned under presidential order.
The pair were among 227 Japanese-Americans forced from their homes on Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942, under order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The men, women and children – two-thirds of them U.S. citizens – were marched to the Eagledale ferry dock, on their way to internment camps in Idaho and California. They were the first of what eventually became more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans imprisoned on the West Coast.
On Thursday, Hayashida – described as the oldest surviving Japanese-American taken from Bainbridge Island – appeared before a House committee to urge Congress to include a Bainbridge site in the national park system.
“I hope to live long enough to see the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Memorial earn the honor and recognition from our federal government and become a unit of the National Park Service,” Hayashida told the House Resources Committee.
“Please act quickly so that Americans can learn from and remember the meaning of the memorial’s name: “Nidoto Nai Yoni – Let it not happen again.”
Wearing a bright yellow lei, the slight, soft-spoken Hayashida said the day she was taken into custody was the saddest of her life. A photo now on display at the Smithsonian Institution shows a solemn Hayashida holding her sleeping daughter in her arms. Both are wearing tags identifying them as prisoners. Natalie’s stuffed toy dog dangles above her mother’s purse.
Hayashida’s husband, a Japanese native, had been taken into custody earlier, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I don’t want it to happen again for anyone,” she said in an interview. “I’m just glad I got to come here, since I’m still living. No one else is old enough to know what happened.”
Under Roosevelt’s order, Bainbridge Island residents of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes by the U.S. Army and marched to the Eagledock dock, where they boarded a ferry to Seattle.
From there, they were taken by train to Manzanar, a remote camp in the Mojave Desert of California. About a year later, most were transferred to the Minidoka Relocation Center in rural Idaho.
In all, nearly 13,000 Washington state residents were incarcerated without trial.
Asked for her memories of the internment camps, Hayashida said simply, “Nothing pleasant.”
She and her family were held for nearly three years. Her son, Leonard, was born at Manzanar. He later served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and died earlier this year.
After being freed in 1945, the family tried to resume its strawberry farm on the island, but could not make a go of it. Her husband, Suburo, took a job at Boeing and the family moved to Seattle, where she still lives. Her husband died in 1983.
“The years we experienced in Minidoka and Manzanar changed our lives. Our family lost everything,” Hayashida said.
While she is grateful for the apologies of a series of U.S. presidents, Hayashida said the memorial will be a lasting testament to a “shameful period in American history.”
Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., the Bainbridge Island dock would become a satellite of the Minidoka Internment National Monument in southern Idaho, established in 2001. The monument is one of two U.S. internment camps designated as a national park; the other is at Manzanar, in central California.
Inslee said he is optimistic that the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, will be approved before the end of the year. A companion measure sponsored by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington is pending in the Senate.
A memorial is important to Hayashida and her family, Inslee said, “but it’s also important for all Americans, so we never again let the power of fear overcome the promise of liberty.”