Kristen Nemoto Jay

In the summer of 1942, Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, was the training location of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the nearly all-Japanese American segregated military unit of 1,500 mainly local boys from Hawai‘i that, with the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, would go on to become the most highly decorated American unit for its size and length of service. According to Densho Encyclopedia – an online encyclopedia of Japanese American history – while there were reports of clashes between the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and White troops at Camp McCoy, the men from Hawai‘i were “largely welcomed by the communities adjoining the military grounds.” There were also many social occasions for civilians and soldier interactions including “one notable incident that involved men of the 100th Infantry Battalion who saved several Wisconsin residents from drowning in an ice-covered lake.”

Prior to the 100th Infantry Battalion’s training, Camp McCoy was used as a concentration camp for Japanese, German and Italian American civilians who were deemed to be potentially “dangerous enemy aliens.” Camp McCoy, today known as Fort McCoy, was one of the many holding facilities that the Department of Justice illegally stationed thousands of mostly Issei (first generation Japanese American) men who had been arrested and interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor, prior to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. After EO 9066 was officially signed on Feb. 19, 1942, over 110,000 mainly Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the West Coast to enter concentration camps run by the War Relocation Authority. Over the course of World War II, an estimate of 126,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in the United States.

Despite over 80 years of telling and retelling of this part of history, in hopes for the next generation to learn and move forward, there are moments that can only be used as opportunities for folks to come together to build a more inclusive community; one that accepts our nation’s past mistakes and acknowledges where we can do and be better.

Our cover story features a collaboration of community members in Muskego, a small town suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who rallied together to stand up against diminishing the history of Japanese American incarceration within their school district’s board cabinet – involving the validity of whether people of Japanese ancestry who were illegally interned at one of the many concentration camps throughout the United States during World War II were indeed “American.”

While us here in Hawai‘i, some 4,000 miles away from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, know more about the history of our Nisei soldiers than some in Muskego, located just 170 miles away, it is encouraging to know that there are “history buffs” out there who are willing to stand up and ask the hard questions in order for us to further learn and grow from our past mistakes.

As this issue commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 – signed by President Ronald Reagan – may we all continue to learn and grow from our nation’s history. Despite its faults, there are opportunities to move forward but with dignity and respect to what we have done and what we can do better so that it never happens again.


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