On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 setting in motion of the removal of 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast, where 50 families on Bainbridge Island, WA became the first to be sent to one of ten internment camps.
“All told there were 276 Japanese-Americans at the start of the war,” said historian Clarence Moriwaki. “And everyone was off the island when the first exclusion order took place.”
On the morning of March 30, 1942, men women and children were rounded up by the U.S. military and gathered at the Eagledale ferry dock where they boarded the ferry “Kehloken” to Seattle, and then taken by train to the Manzanar Camp in California.
Lily Kitamoto Kodama was only 7-years old at the time.
“I remember my mother telling me we were going to take the ferry to Seattle,” said Kodama. “And in those days a trip to Seattle was like going to Disneyland.”
But looking back, she now realizes her mother and elders were protecting her and the other children.
Nidoto Nai Yoni: Let it not happen again.
“People were fearful and didn’t know where they were going or if they were able to come home,” said Kodama. “To be uprooted with only a week’s notice and imprisoned it is really a marvel that something that happened in America.”
To make sure people never forget, 10 years ago the Bainbridge Japanese American Exclusion Memorial was built along the same path where the 50 Bainbridge families walked to board the ferry and leave the island.
“This is an historic first place, this is the first forced removal,” said Moriwaki.
The memorial wall is made of red cedar and winds down to the dock landing site. The wall also features artwork and the names of all 276 Japanese Americans who were exiled from the island. It also includes the moto: “Nidoto Nai Yoni” that translates to “Let it not happen again.”
This year, organizers finished constructing a new addition to the memorial – a wooden deck stretching to the water.
“It is called the exclusion departure deck,” said Moriwaki. “The whole point of this deck is to give visitors the sensation of leaving the island.”
A committee is now finalizing the artwork that will accompany and highlight deck. The plan is to dedicate and open it to the public by March 30th of this year.
Organizers still hope to build a visitor’s center to complete the memorial site.