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Revisiting Japanese internment on the 75th anniversary

Today marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most controversial executive orders in American history. Ten weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued the order, allowing the government to incarcerate people they thought capable of aiding U.S. enemies in World War II. It led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent, many of them U.S. citizens. Eddie Arruza, correspondent for WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” reports.

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  • MINURO IMAMURA:

    This is my grammar school years here.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    Minoru Imamura was born in a farming community just south of Los Angeles in 1926. It’s where his immigrant parents had settled after leaving Japan in search of a better life. And while Imamura–who likes to be called Min–grew up during the Great Depression, he led what sounds very much like an all-American life.

  • MINORU IMAMURA:

    I had a dog and I had a shotgun and went rabbit hunting and I think it was the nicest time of life for me.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    But the idyllic youth that Min remembers came to a very sudden end in his mid-teens. On December 7, 1941, Minoru Imamura was a high school sophomore and a few weeks shy of turning 16.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    Two months later President Roosevelt issued an executive order calling for all Japanese Americans to be relocated to internment camps.

  • MINORU IMAMURA:

    My dad worked so hard. He put his energy in his farming, and he decided to buy 50 acres. He lost everything.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    A new book of photographs reveals some never-before-published images of the internment. It’s called “Un-American” and published by Chicago’s CityFile press. Michael Williams is the book’s co-writer who says a photograph he saw years ago sparked the project.

  • MICHAEL WILLIAMS:

    It was of a Japanese-American shopkeeper in Oakland California and he was in the process of being incarcerated and he put a banner on the front of his business that said “I am an American.” And it was that single image that always stuck in my head. EDDIE ARRUZA: That photograph was taken by the noted photographer Dorothea Lange. Lange, along with other noted photographers, including Ansel Adams, were commissioned by the U.S. Government to chronicle the internment of Japanese-Americans. And those photos were carefully controlled by the government.

  • MICHAEL WILLIAMS:

    If newspapers wanted a picture they would supply a picture. Generally they would be pictures that showed positive aspects of life in the camps. They did not document the dust storms, the extreme cold, the uninsulated conditions in which people were living. They did not show the horse stalls that entire families were living in. EDDIE ARRUZA: Michael Williams says he and his co-author sifted through thousands of photographs at the National Archives, uncovering some they say are being published for the first time and span the entire four years of the internment era, beginning in 1942, when families were notified and began selling off their possessions. They were transported by trucks and trains to assembly camps where they were processed.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    The Imamura family was later transferred to the internment camp in Granada, Colorado, one of ten such facilities. It’s where Min finished high school two years later and, in a supreme case of irony, he was then drafted into the Army. MINORU IMAMURA: There were two questionnaires: if you’ll be loyal to the United States and if you are drafted would you serve. And on the two questions I answered yes, yes.

  • MINORU IMAMURA:

    But by the time he reached Europe, the War had ended.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    Back home, the last of the internment camps would not close until 1946.

  • RONALD REAGAN:

    “For here we admit a wrong.”

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a law granting reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned. Each survivor received 20 thousand dollars. Among them were Min Imamura and his wife Mary whom he met at the Granada Internment Camp. Gayle Imamura Huffman is their daughter.

  • GAYLE IMAMURA:

    Whatever monetary amount was given was inadequate to compensate for our loss. I think my parents came out of that experience remarkably un-bitter compared to some other people that unfortunately it was a very scarring experience for them.

  • EDDIE ARRUZA:

    And Min Imamura, who recently celebrated his 91st year as a proud Japanese-American and U.S. Army veteran, says he’s never lost pride for his homeland.

  • MINORU IMAMURA:

    “There’s no country like the USA, yes.”

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