Do You Remember Pearl Harbor Day 1941?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced it as a "Date that will live in infamy." It was the day America was dragged into World War II.

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My grandfather was so appalled that he took his family out into the desert for most of the war, living at camps in California and at Casa Grande, Arizona. Toward the end of the war, they ended up in Gunnison, Utah, when some Japanese-Americans were permitted to live outside of the barbed wire as tensions eased.

Internned Japanese-American kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance

A loyal, patriotic American, my grandfather came under severe criticism. There was little financial support for a missionary who seemingly had taken the side of the enemy. Yet, he was convinced these heartbroken Americans whose ancestors had immigrated decades earlier were no enemy. Any who wished to return to Japan were given free passage back there. The ones in the U.S. internment camps wanted nothing to do with an empire on the other side of the world that had attacked their native homeland.

Congressional Medal of Honor winner George Sakako at a recent ceremony

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Out of those relocation camps came the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army — composed of Japanese-American enlisted men who pleaded to be allowed to join the battle. Although their families were in internment camps in the desert, the 442nd fought with distinction in Italy, southern France and Germany. They became the most highly–decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces, earnintg over 18,000 individual medals, including 9,000 Purple Hearts, over 4,000 Silver Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 22 Legions of Merit and 21 Congressional Medals of Honor.

Today on my mom’s wall is an Easter lily plaque carved by hand and painted by one of the Japanese-Americans from a piece of scrap lumber. She quietly looks at it from time to time, remembering that day in December 1941 when her world – and that of millions of others — turned upside down as the U.S. Pacific Fleet burned in the oily waters of Pearl Harbor.



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Rob Kerby
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