The National Museum of the Pacific War will shed light on a troubling time in American history this Saturday with a Day of Remembrance to commemorate the stateside internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The 6-acre museum complex in downtown Fredericksburg, which is dedicated to interpreting the history of World War II’s Pacific Theater, will feature speakers, tours, and drummers to honor the event.
“It’s a difficult story, but it’s one that is worth telling,” says Barbara Ford, the museum’s public programs coordinator. “Just like everything that we do here at the museum, it’s about the human story behind those internment camps.”
Across the country, Day of Remembrance events mark the anniversary of Feb. 19, 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of Japanese Americans in detention camps.
In Texas, the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service operated “enemy alien confinement camps” housing Americans and Latin Americans of Japanese, German, and Italian descent at Kenedy, Seagoville, and Crystal City. At nearly 500 acres, Crystal City was the largest internment camp in the United States and the only one built exclusively for families, according to the Texas Historical Commission. The Crystal City camp’s population of internees peaked in 1944 at 3,400, two-thirds of them Japanese.
On Saturday, the National Museum of the Pacific War will host drum performances by Austin Taiko, a Japanese drumming group; tours of the campus’ striking Japanese Garden of Peace; a screening of the film The Registry; and talks by authors who’ve studied and written about Japanese internment camps. Attendees will also get a chance to see the museum’s newly renovated Admiral Nimitz Gallery.
Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone, the producers and directors of The Registry, will be at the event to talk about their film, which tells the story of the U.S. Army’s secret Military Intelligence Service, a unit of Japanese Americans that served and interpreted in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
“In doing research in making The Registry we perused a diary kept by Mas Inoshita, who we featured in the film,” Kubota says. “As I understand it soldiers weren’t supposed to keep diaries as they could fall in enemy hands. But Mas’ entry when he heard of President Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 was one of mourning and respect. He had mixed emotions as it was Roosevelt who signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942 that sent him and his family to the Gila River War Relocation camp in Arizona.”
Kubota says the Day of Remembrance is only now gaining recognition in places like his home state of Michigan. “Realizing now how important the day is, I am impressed to see it being observed in Texas,” he says.
Ford says about 300 people attended last year’s Day of Remembrance—the first hosted by the National Museum of the Pacific War—including a contingent of Houstonians and the consul-general of Japan in Houston. This year, the deputy consul-general is expected to attend.
The federal government closed the Crystal City camp in 1948. Now part of the local school district, the remnant structures are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Japanese American Citizens League notes that no Japanese Americans were ever charged or convicted of espionage or sabotage against the United States. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology to Japanese Americans who were incarcerated and signed an act to compensate each surviving internee with $20,000.