Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Japanese American Resettlement

During World War II, roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast of the United States were taken from their homes and put into concentration camps because of wartime hysteria and fear. The military commander of the West Coast felt they were a threat, and politicians went along with his assessment. They were sent inland to concentration camps with barbed wire and armed guards in isolated locations like Topaz, Utah; Manzanar, California; and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

After a time, some Japanese Americans were allowed to leave if they joined the military, had a job further inland, or wanted to go to college. Since they had lost their homes and businesses, and life in the make-shift barracks was often brutal, especially in winter, 60,000 would eventually head to the Midwest. About 12,000 resettled in Chicago, and some 130-200 came to Peoria to work or attend Bradley University.

During the war, 14,000 Japanese Americans fought in the 442ndInfantry Regiment, mostly in Italy, France, and Germany, including 800 from Heart Mountain. It became the most decorated unit in American history, and its members earned 9,486 Purple Hearts and 21 Medals of Honor.

At first, the Trustees of Bradley University did not want to accept American citizens from the camps, perhaps cautious of continuing war hysteria. Eventually thirty to forty people would come to Bradley University to study, many in horology, but others in fields like engineering and science, and Bradley would on the official camp list for accepting students.

Even through 9 of 10 Americans were open to the idea of resettlement, many people in positions of power didn’t take the lead. In Peoria, it would take the churches and business people to spearhead the drive to welcome them. OSF, in particular, paved the way for workers because they needed people to help with nursing and other hospital jobs. 

Researchers Tina Morris and Prof. Rustin Gate at Bradley University have found ten people who came to Peoria from the Heart Mountaincamp: Ruth Tsugiye Amamoto, Sam Isami Aoyama, Bill Masaichi Furukawa, George Kamikido, Joyce Mitsuko Koga, Max Shigenobu Koga, Shizuko Koga, Stanley Susumu Koga, Masaharu Masao Satoda, and Ken Utsunomiya.

It was ordinary citizens, not elected officials, who stood up and did what was morally right. After the war, the government admitted that they had messed up.