The 75th anniversary this year of the opening of the historic Minidoka War Relocation Center is not only a reminder of the injustices that can never be repeated, but also of the extraordinary service of Japanese Americans. Despite their own country, America, questioning their patriotism and uprooting their families, many put their lives on the line to uphold the freedoms of those who distrusted and condemned them. The strength and patriotism of Japanese Americans is to be celebrated and honored.
The National Park Service (NPS) that maintains the Minidoka National Historic Site, home to the Minidoka Relocation Center during World War II, notes that the relocation center’s ruins “continue to tell the painful, yet resilient story of America’s Japanese American community during World War II.” NPS reports that during the center’s more than three years of operation following its opening August 10, 1942, 10,000 people from Oregon, Washington and Alaska lived at Minidoka.
Included among the recognitions at the site is Minidoka’s Honor Roll of the nearly 1,000 Americans from Minidoka who served in World War II, and they served with great distinction. In a report on the U.S. Army Center Of Military History’s website, Historian Kathryn Shenkle notes that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of second-generation Americans of Japanese ancestry, was “the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.” She noted the irony of this unit liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp, when “Japanese Americans from the U.S. west coast were detained in American camps before being drafted into service, and still had family in those U.S. camps. Nisei were denied their property, freedom to move, live in their own homes, work, and learn in the western United States.”
A plaque at Minidoka lists some of the remarkable military honors the 442nd Regimental Combat Team earned that include 21 Medals of Honor; 560 Silver Stars; 4,000 Bronze Stars; and 9,486 Purple Hearts. Private First Class William K. Nakamura was one of the Japanese Americans who lived at Minidoka and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was killed while serving in 1944 in Italy and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000. The citation for his medal describes his “heroic stand” and actions enabling his fellow soldiers to survive and advance.
The Congressional Gold Medal was presented collectively to the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, for the distinct service of the Japanese American soldiers who comprised these units. I co-sponsored the Senate legislation that authorized the medal providing this long overdue recognition and had the great honor of helping present veterans from Idaho with their medals. I also recently joined Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) in sending a letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan urging the issuance of a stamp commemorating Japanese American service members who served during World War II and their families for their extraordinary service to our nation.
The Minidoka National Historic Site remains a place for visitors to learn from the past and pay tribute to Japanese Americans who despite enduring significant hardships and distrust from their fellow Americans helped galvanize our freedoms and liberate our allies abroad. We can never forget the tremendous service those soldiers provided while facing enemies abroad and discrimination at home.
Mike Crapo is a Republican U.S. senator who represents Idaho in Congress.