Echoes from Northwest history rang loudly for people in the present at a memorial ceremony Thursday to mark 75 years since the U.S. government forcibly removed the first Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes and sent them to internment camps. This happened in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.
One of the first groups rounded up came from Bainbridge Island, Washington, due to its proximity to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The 75th anniversary commemoration of the internment took place at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, a relatively new unit of the National Park System at the location of the island's former ferry landing.
Kay Sakai Nakao was 22 years old at the time the U.S. Army posted notices on the island about a newly signed presidential executive order.
"It was very sad and scary because we were never told where we were going or how long we were going to be gone," she recalled on Thursday. "They didn't explain anything; just take what you could carry."
Nakao, now 97, was one of many speakers who invoked the memory of the Japanese internment to urge people to stand up against targeting of Muslims, Jews, or immigrants in the present day.
"We don't want something like this to happen ever again. The way the country is going you never know," she said.
The Japanese ambassador to the United States, Washington's Democratic governor, a tribal chairman and religious leaders also spoke to the crowd of more than 200 people gathered for the anniversary ceremony. Besides Nakao, more than a dozen other Japanese-Americans who spent time confined in inland internment camps attended.
In his remarks, Governor Jay Inslee drew a line from the World War II internment history, to what he called real "fear" harbored by some in the public today and Washington state's court challenges to President Donald Trump's executive orders limiting travel from certain majority-Muslim countries.
"We stand on federal ground as part of the national park system to say that we will never let fear overcome us," Inslee said. "We will never succumb to fear again and we will always stand up for the rights of everyone who lives in this blessed land."
"Our motto is a motto of hope and action: 'Nidoto Nai Yoni - Let it not happen again,'" said Master of Ceremonies Clarence Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community. "We're falling down on it because it is happening again. It makes me feel sad. But it makes me feel empowered because so many people came out. Everybody spoke with such conviction and belief, that hope is there."
In total, 120,000 thousand people of Japanese descent were confined for about three and a half years in hastily-built internment camps including Minidoka, Idaho, and Manzanar, California. It wasn't until decades later that the U.S. government apologized for what was by then deemed an unconstitutional mass detention brought on by war hysteria.