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The 48-Star American Flags travel to Heart Mountain, Topaz, and Honolulu

Gardena JCI on July 5. 

On July 5, 2021, I flew down early in the morning from San Jose for a flag signing event at the Gardena Valley JCI1 in Los Angeles. It was a beautiful day and we had a fantastic turnout. Approximately 70 folks came out to sign the flag. Some of the folks who came out were Louise Momita (Poston); David Miyoshi (Manzanar), a veteran of the Marine Corps who would later serve in Vietnam a later become a lawyer in 1973 (Miyoshi International Law Offices); Alan Nishio (Manzanar), one of the major leaders of the API Movement and Redress; Don Nakamura (Heart Mountain/101st airborne); Ron Shintani (Jerome/U.S. Army). David Miyoshi would write a follow-up email to me saying:

“My fellow vets and I were truly inspired by what you are doing for our community. The flag signing is a genuine one-of-a-kind event that will serve to highlight a chapter in American history that brings to the fore the indispensability of our Constitution. We veterans felt it an honor to participate and look forward to seeing the flag proudly displayed at the Japanese American Muesum of San Jose.”

A huge thank you to George Wada who helped coordinate the signing event and reserved the parking lot area of the Gardena Valley JCI along with tents and tables. George was also able to help seek volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 683 (Scout Master Kelly Komatsu) which was neat b/c the troops took a group photo with Bacon Sakatani who was also a Boy Scout at the Heart Mountain prison camp. Thank you as well to teen volunteers Quinn and Reese Hamano (twins) from Carson. Shout outs to Colleen Miyano and Bacon Sakatani for also helping spread the word to the community.

After the Gardena event, Vicky Murakami-Tsuda picked me up and we drove to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles where we met with George Takei (Jerome and Tule Lake) and his husband Brad. George was appreciative of the opportunity to sign the flag and respectfully called me “an ally” (to the cause of helping to educate our communities about the wrongful mass evacuation and mass incarceration). I would later learn on Twitter that the U.S. Air Force Academy has distributed George's graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, which recounts his family's incarceration in concentrations camps during WWII, to cadets as part of a new reading initiative. Thank you to Vicky and JANM for connecting me with George and Brad.

With George Takei on July 5.

Upon the completion of the signing with George, I then drove down to Orange County to the Kazuo Masuda VFW Memorial Post 3670. It was an honor to have veterans Robert Wada (Poston), Toki Endo, and Norio Uyematsu and others sign the flag. It was also nice to see 442nd Veteran Yosh Nakamura and his daughter Linda Nakamura at the VFW hall. Thank you to veteran James Nakamura (Gulf War) for helping to coordinate this signing. Also, Robert Wada gave me a signed copy of his memoir, From Internment to Korea to Solitude: Memoir of Robert M. Wada—Nisei youngster of a WWII Japanese American Internment Camp and later a Marine Corps Veteran of the Korean War.

Kazuo Masdua Memorial VFW Post 3670, Orange County, CA on July 5. From Left to right: James Styles, James Masaki, Col. Tim Youshinaga, Susan Nishikawa, Nori Uyematsu, Ken Hayashi, Alice Tamura, Robert Wada, Toshiko Matsuzawa, James Nakamura, Shiz Nakasone, WWII 442nd Veteran Yosh Nakamura, Shiz Nakasone sister, Toki Endo, Johnny Gogo, Mae Shimazu, Linda Nakamura, Bacon Sakatani, Patti Hirahara.

On July 21, 2021, I flew to Montana and I was able to squeeze in a quick visit to Heart Mountain, Wyoming and to also visit the Interpretive Center. This was my first visit to one of the 10 major prison camps. The replica guard tower was surreal. The staff at the interpretive center were warm and inviting and a huge thank you to Dakota Russell, Executive Director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (and staff) for a quick personal tour. Thank you as well to Julie Abo (Director of Washington Affairs, Office of the Chair, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation) for helping to coordinate this quick visit.

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, Powell, Wyoming on July 21. Left to right – Tyson Emory (Master Teacher for NEH Workshop), Julie Abo (Director of Washington Affairs), Dakota Russel (HMWF Executive Director), Deni Hirsh (HMWF Development Manager), Brandon Daake (HMWF Registrar)

I plan to return to Heart Mountain for the formal dedication ceremony with Secretary Norman Mineta and Wyoming U.S. Senator Alan Sympson (retired) in July 2022.

Mary Murakami at Bethesda, Maryland on July 23.

On July 23, 2021, I flew from Montana to D.C. and visited with Mary Tamaki Murakami (Topaz) in Bethseda, Maryland. I had a wonderful visit with Mary as she shared her story about leaving Topaz to head to college and that due to prejudice, racism and discrimination the only dental school her husband (the late Dr. Raymond S. Murakami, interned at Tule Lake) was accepted to was the historically black college, Howard University in Washington, D.C. Mary also shared with me that she had graduated from high school at Topaz and later some of her classmates (including Mary) were published in the book Blossoms in the Desert—Topaz High School Class of 1945 (edited by Darrell Y. Hamamoto). Thank you to Julie Abo from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and Noriko Sanefuji from the National Museum of American History for helping coordinate my visit with Mary.

On July 28, 2021, I was in Salt Lake City, Utah; this was another ambitious day as I awoke early in morning and drove the two hours from Salt Lake City to take the flags to the Topaz prison camp site – it was surreal to see just vast farmland where once there were barracks, barbed wire and guard towers.

Flags at Topaz, UT on July 28.

After about an hour at the Topaz site, I drove back for a signing event at the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple.2 We had a very nice turnout as community members including retired Judge Raymond Uno (Heart Mountain), the first Asian American Judge in Utah and Kathleen Saito Yuille3 (born at Heart Mountain) came to sign the flag. It was an honor to also have Floyd Mori, former National JACL President, come out to support the event. Thank you to Mari Higuchi for helping sign folks in.

Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple on July 28.

A great big special “THANK YOU” to Shirley Ann Higuchi, former Bar President of Washington, D.C. and current Chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, for inviting me to Salt Lake City and then a special invitation to meet with her father, Bill Higuchi (Heart Mountain) and the Japanese Consul General Hidori. Shirley also held a special screening at her father’s home of Secretary Norman Mineta's video, Norman Mineta and His Legacy—An American Story— A film about injustice, redemption, and a burning desire for all people to be treated equally.

Also, a huge recommendation for Shirley's new book, Setsuko's SecretHeart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Experience, a fascinating and wonderful read about Shirley's mother, Setsuko Saito Higuchi, who did not talk about her experience at Heart Mountain with Shirley. Shout out to Ray Locker for his support and for taking some great photos.

Higuchi home in Salt Lake City, UT on July 28.

442nd WWII Veteran Sam Sakamoto at flag signing in Watsonville, CA on August 1.

On August 1, 2021, I drove from San Jose to Watsonville for a flag signing event at the Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL Kizuka Hall.4 Thank you again to Mas and Marcia Hashimoto5 for coordinating and planning this event. We had another wonderful turnout as about 25 folks came to sign including 442nd WWII Veteran Sam Sakamoto (Tule Lake) and former National JACL President Larry Oda (Crystal City), Mrs. Toshiko (Tee) Yamamoto nee Mine (Poston II), sisters Eiko Hirohara Nishihara and Yoshio Hirohara Nishihara (Rohwer), Mae Nakayama Yoshida (Heart Mountain), Sandra Aiko Sofye Miura (Tule Lake), Rose Yoshida Histomi (Jerome, Tule Lake, Fumi Tanimasa (Gila) and many others.

101-year old Yosh Uchida signing flag in Saratoga, CA on August 4.

On August 4, 2021, I drove to the home of Yosh Uchida (Poston), the 101 year old San Jose legend and icon and godfather of judo – to have him sign the flag. Thank you to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo for connecting me with Jan Masuda Cougill (Yosh's senior executive assistant).

A recent Los Angeles Times article (“At 101, judo coaching great Yosh Uchida still isn’t done helping Olympians”) on July 25, 2021 profiled Yosh and his role in the recent Olympic Games in Japan.

On August 8, 2021 – I was invited to the San Jose home of Corrine Osbourne to visit with her 98-year old mother Yoshiko Obana Hisatomi. Yoshiko’s other daughters were present as well: Reiko Oto, Elaine Bolender and Haroko Sanders. What was supposed to be a quick meeting to allow for Yoshiko to sign the flag turned into a 4-hour lunch meeting as the family welcomed me with open arms and shared many great stories with me about Yoshiko. Family friends Ken and Joanne Nakano, who were visiting from Southern California, were also incarcerated as small children and also signed the flag. Thank you to Reiko, Corrine, Elaine, Haruko, and Yoshiko and their family for their warm hospitality.

Yoshiko's family on August 8. First row left to right: Elaine Bolender, Haruko Sanders, Yoshiko Obana Hisatomi, Reiko Oto, Corinne Osborne; Second Row: Melissa Carr, Tessa Osbourne, Caden Carr, Miya Oto, Lauryn Castaneda, Tayrn Castaneda, Joanne Nakano; Steve Scott, Jonathan Sanders, Ken Nakano.

On August 11, 2021 was a special trip to Honolulu at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. It was not lost on me that I flew out of Norman Mineta International Airport in San Jose, CA and landed into Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, HI. At the JCC, very special guests included Larry Miwa (Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivor), Governor George Ariyoshi (MIS Veteran), Dr. Dennis Ogawa (Manzanar), Clifford Miyamoto (Crystal City), Shinye Gima (MIS Veteran), and Norman Osumi (Gila).

Thank you to Larry Miwa who gave me a copy of his book (written by his son Stephen Miwa), Tadaima! I am Home – A Transnational Family History.

Thank you as well to Norman Osumi who gave me a copy of the book he wrote about his father who was incarcerated at Sand Island Detention Camp in Hawaii and then Lordsburg Internment Camp in New Mexico before finally being sent to Gila Relocation Camp: Today’s Thought – Rev. Paul Osumi: the Man and His Message.

Norma H. Osumi (Gila) at JCCH on August 11.

A very special “Mahalo” to Wayne Miyao and Clyde Matsumoto (along with Nate Gyotoku and Wendy Abe) for their extensive planning of this flag signing event at the JCCH6 (Japanese Cultural center of Hawaii).

Also a shout out to the Honpa Honwanji Hawaii Betusin Boy Scout Troop 49 (Scoutmaster Eric Ebesu, Assistant Scoutmasters Albert Wong and Bryon Saito) who volunteered to help with the event.

Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin Boy Scout Troop 49 at JCCH on August 11.

I also visited Kahula Nui in Oahu and met with Joy Takeshita Teraoka7 (Heart Mountain) who sang with the George Igawa band during WWII. There were many wonderful folks at Kahula Nui who also signed the flag including Barbara Mastumoto-Coons (Tanforan Race Track Horse Stall).

At Kahula Nui event on August 11. From left to right: Betty Sato (Gila), Carol Kuroda (father and family Crystal City), Gogo, Joy Takeshita Teraoka (Heart Mountain), Barbara Marumoto-Coons (Tanforan), Carol Kawai (father’s family Topaz, Tule Lake), Sonja Kawamoto (Poston)

Joy also helped me meet up with WWII Veteran Edward “Eddie” Ikuma who served with the 100th RCT.

100th Infantry WWII Veteran Edward Ikuma in Honolulu, HI on August 11.

On my last night in Honolulu, August 12, I met with John Mori Hayakawa (Poston) and his son Robert and daughter-in-law Vickie and had a great conversation with them. Turns out John had a career with the City of San Jose and is long-time friends with Secretary Norman Mineta. John had also put together some research and put together a publication “Documenting The Path to Incarceration 1941-1942: Follow the Hayakawa Family as they wind their ways from being Citizens living freely in a democratic society to their placement in their new home in a barrack on the desert-like flood plains of the Colorado Rive on the California-Arizona Border.”

Vickie Hayakawa, John Mori Hayakawa (Poston), Johnny Gogo at Honolulu, HI on August 12.

On August 15, we had a very successful flag signing event at the Palo Alto Buddhist temple8 thanks to the great volunteer efforts of Eric Quock, Yukata (Sherri) Kawazoye, Kim Kawamura, Cathy Osugi, Taz Kuwano, Ryan Nakamura, Dean Koyama, Chuck Dene, William and Pamela Warrior, Naoko Fujii, Yumi Higa and Igor. We had nearly 80 folks come out to sign the flag. One community member, Tara Sasagawa, arrived with her father, Frank "Jay" Sasagawa (Topaz) who signed the flag; Tara also told me about her mother, Susie Masuda Sasagawa, brought a copy of the book, The Train to Crystal City, which tells the story of South American Japanese held in detention camps and used by the United States as bargaining chips for POW exchanges with Japan. Tara sent this nice follow-up email:

I appreciate what you are doing to have the Japanese American internment camp survivors be able to share their own stories, and for a few it's nice to see they are given this honor to be recognized and to share their stories. It is not a memory that all Japanese Americans want to share and I have to say there were some who attended who in the past didn't talk much about it.

For my mother, she spent many years of her life sharing stories and trying to have Crystal City internment camp recognized and placed on the monument in Washington. Both my mother and father would speak at high schools and Community colleges to share their stories. Growing up in Palo Alto and going to school, I never learned about what happened to the Japanese Americans in any history class. I know this has changed, but it's still not something that is really truly understood by some. My parents were also involved in all their Internment camp reunions, participated on the committees and kept in touch with others who were in the camps. You've probably learned how the Japanese Americans are very connected and many do know each other. My father who was born in Menlo Park and whose parents worked for the California Supreme court Judge Charles Shurtleff spent the majority of his life living in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. My mother was born in Lodi, Ca and lived there until going to Rowher, Arkansas and Crystal City, Texas. After the war, my grandfather moved the family from Lodi to San Francisco since their house was burned down.

Eventually, my grandfather who was a landscape gardener bought a home in Los Altos. My father's parents bought a home in Palo Alto, across the street from Stanford University. I'm proud of my grandparents who did manage to assimilate in the US, and were successful in all they achieved. It was a pleasure to meet you and thank you again for the time you have spent to honor all the Japanese Americans who were in the Internment camps.

Tara Sasagawa and her father Frank “Jay” Sasagawa at Palo Alto, CA flag signing on August 15.

Another community member, Lisa Nishimoto Kunze sent me this heart-warming email after the Palo Alto event:

Lisa Nishimoto Kunze's family with her mom, Susan (Sumiko Nomura) Nishimoto (Topaz) (seated) at Palo Alto, CA flag signing on August 15. On the back from Left to right: Eric Kunze, Anna Kunze, Rebecca Kunze, Lisa Kunze.  

It was wonderful meeting you today. Thank you for spearheading this project and providing a way to honor and bring together those who were in the camps.

My mom, Susan (Sumiko Nomura) Nishimoto, was only a toddler when she went to Topaz with her family. She doesn’t have strong memories of it, but made sure I knew about it starting when I was young, and for that I am grateful. I brought my teen daughters today because I want them to understand that this is a part of their family story and identity. The incarceration, the Korematsu case and others, and the stories of those affected are such important parts of our collective American history and extremely relevant to issues we face today. Thank you for being part of trying to make certain it is not forgotten and that nothing like it will ever happen again. My mother is blind so I had the honor of helping her to sign. My aunt, Marino Kono Nomura also signed.

Also at the Palo Alto event, Jeanette Arakawa who wrote The Little Exile based on her experience during WWII as a sub-teener, sent me the following email:

Jeanette Arakawa (Rohwer) at Palo Alto, CA flag signing with her book Little Exile on August 15.

Thank you very much for creating an opportunity for me and my fellow octogenarian and other elders, to meet so many of our age peers as well as youngsters (from our vantage point very few are not youngsters to us)…so willing to honor and Celebrate our survival of our evacuation and internment during WWII by having us leave tangible marks on our beloved American flag, symbolizing our unity with all Americans. We are forever in your debt.

With Deep Gratitude, Jeanette Arakawa.

On August 20, 2021, Clara Chizue Niguma, who was an orphan at the Children’s Village at Manzanar, signed the flag at the Santa Clara County Courthouse with her daughter present, Susan Yahukshi (a 30-year court reporter with Santa Clara County).

Clara Chizue Niguma (Children’s Village at Manzanar) signing the flag at the Santa Clara County Courthouse (with her daughter Susan Yakushi – 30 year court reporter) on August 20.

The flag signing project and journey continues and I will submit another update for the flag signing events from September and October soon.

* * * * *

UPCOMING FLAG SIGNING EVENTS:

Saturday, November 20: East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center in West Covina from 1 p.m.–4 p.m.

Sunday, November 21, 12 p.m.–4 p.m.: Japanese American National Museum (RSVPs are recommended)

Sunday, December 19: Vintage Gardens Assisted Living Community in Fresno from 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

 

Notes:

1. “Thank you” to the Rafu Shimpo for writing an article about the event at Gardena JCI.

2. “Thank you” to Salt Lake City reporter/journalist Ashley Imlay for writing an article about the flag signing event at the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple.

3. Kathleen Yuille also shared with me the title of a short film produced by her granddaughter about Heart Mountain: An American Contradiction by Vanessa Yuille.

4. Please also see the article from reporter/journalist Tarmo Hannula for more photos and interviews.

5. Please also see a very important presentation from retired U.S. History teacher Mas Hashimoto’s “Racism and America’s Concentration Camps” on YouTube.

6. For more interviews and photos regarding visit at JCCH, please also see the article written by reporter journalist Jayna Omaye with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

7. Please also see the wonderful short film, For Joy, written by Julian Saporiti (accompanied by Erin Aoyama).

8. For more interviews and photos of the Palo Alto flag signing, please see the article written by reporter/journalist Gennady Sheyner with the Palo Alto Weekly.

 

© 2021 Johnny Cepeda Gogo

Camps Flag Signing Project Heart Mountain Honolulu incarcerations Japanese Americans Topaz World War II