"nidoto nai yoni - let it not happen again"

Last weekend in Bainbridge Island, Washington, hundreds gathered to dedicate a memorial wall commemorating the United States government's forced removal of Japanese American families from the island to internment camps during World War II: A Wall to Remember an Era's First Exiles.

Bainbridge was home to the very first group of Japanese Americans to be removed -- chosen as the government's "test run" for mass evacuations -- and was one of the few communities to welcome them back when the war was over. Of 277 forced off the island, 150 people returned. About 90 survive today, and 20 still live there:
On Saturday, Mr. Kitamoto - along with hundreds of others, including former prisoners, their families, Bainbridge residents and tourists - will reflect on that period, when American citizens were exiled from their homes and incarcerated, without due process, by the United States government because of their ethnicity. At a small inlet harbor, among wetlands and old cedar trees, they will dedicate a memorial wall that commemorates what the government later acknowledged was one of the most shameful episodes in its history. The wall's purpose is emblazoned on it in bronze lettering: "Nidoto Nai Yoni - Let It Not Happen Again."

For some, this may be the last such gathering. Fumiko Hayashida, Mr. Kitamoto's aunt, who was about 31 when she was rounded up by soldiers, is now either 99 or 100 (the records were not clear) - the oldest surviving prisoner from Bainbridge.

A famous photograph of her by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was one that has come to symbolize the internment. The camera caught her on March 30, 1942, clutching her daughter, Natalie, then 13 months old. A stylish hat was perched, incongruously, on her head, and identification tags hung from their coats. They were labeled as if they were baggage, ready for shipment.
The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial contains the names of all 277 Japanese Americans on the island — two-thirds of them American citizens who rounded up and forced on that ferry to Seattle. The purpose is to remember, but even more so, the motto on the wall says all. It's a reminder for us, and future generations: "Let It Not Happen Again."

For more information about the Nikkei Exclusion Memorial, go to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community website here.

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