A lesson to remember
Engineer's pilgrimage recalls history of WWII-era Japanese-Americans
We must never forget the past.
That’s what drives Alan Yoshida year after year to visit Camp Amache in Southeast Colorado, site of the Granada War Relocation Center during World War II.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. government relocated more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to “assembly centers,” then to relocation centers At its peak, about 7,300 people were interned at Granada.
“We can’t forget or history might repeat itself,” said Yoshida, a Raytheon senior systems engineer in Aurora, Colorado, and a Yonsei, or fourth-generation Japanese-American. “You can’t imprison people or discriminate against them based on ethnicity, religion or a family’s country of origin. That’s why I make these pilgrimages.”
Yoshida was born and raised in Colorado; however, his parents, grandparents and extended family lived in Hawaii during World War II. More than a third of Hawaiians in 1941 were of Japanese descent; the government thought it impractical to imprison an entire island. Yoshida’s mother and father were in elementary school during that time.
“My father heard the bombs exploding, and he climbed a coconut tree to watch part of the attack,” Yoshida said. “He couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7, at the time. Later, the authorities took my grandfather in for questioning. He was gone for three days…three days that he never spoke about. It’s something he took to his grave.”
While Yoshida’s father was too young to serve in the military, his three older uncles all enlisted in the U.S. Army. They were assigned to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, an all-volunteer unit composed entirely of Nisei; U.S. citizens born in the United States to Japanese immigrant parents.
About 14,000 men served in the 442nd Regiment, known as the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare. They earned 9,486 Purple Hearts. Yoshida’s uncles were among those wounded in combat.
“My uncles – that generation – were so humble, that they never wanted to talk about the war,” Yoshida said. “In fact, one of my cousins didn’t know that their dad was awarded the Purple Heart until I told him just recently. Despite facing racism, they fought bravely for a country that didn’t accept them. They were still proud Americans, who loved their country.”
Yoshida’s older uncles have since passed away. In fact, there are few Nisei left, he said. As he has done in years past, Yoshida will attend a Memorial Day ceremony at the Nisei Memorial at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.
“Sadly, this might be one of the last pilgrimages to Camp Amache. That generation is almost gone,” Yoshida said. “But I continue to go. I want to hear that oral history first-hand and pass it down. We must remember.”