By Art Campos
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Mits Koshiyama and Frank Emi waited nearly 50 years to tell their side of the story.
As young men, the two Japanese Americans were sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming with their families when World War II broke out. Stripped of their constitutional rights, they were then asked to defend their country by being drafted into the army.
Both said no. Both ended up in prison.
“The government was asking us to fight for the very freedoms that were being denied to us,” said Koshiyama, 68, of San Jose. “It was unjust.”
“Had we stayed quiet and gone along with it, nothing would have happened,” said Emi, 76, a resident of San Gabriel. “But the government went too far suppressing our rights. Then they added insult to injury by drafting us.”
For standing by their convictions, the two men have lived most of their lives branded as “troublemakers” by a segment of the Japanese American community that felt the men should have served in the armed forces to prove their loyalty to the United States.
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman pardoned Koshiyama and 262 other Japanese Americans who were convicted and placed behind bars for refusing to be inducted into the armed forces. Emi and six other leaders of a group calling itself the Fair Play Committee had their convictions overturned on appeal.
But to this day, a huge rift continues to exist in the Japanese American community between supporters of the draft resisters and those who felt the protesters were disloyal.
On Tuesday, the subject was discussed in a forum at California State University, Sacramento. Koshiyama and Emi were panelists and they recounted their stories for about 100 listeners.
Wayne Maeda, a lecturer in Asian American studies at CSUS and moderator of Tuesday’s forum, said it is important for Japanese Americans to heal the wounds that resulted from the draft resisters standing up for their rights.
“The factions within the Japanese American community must acknowledge that everyone did what they thought was best at the time,” Maeda said. “Once the blaming stops, the healing can start.”
“There can also be some healing between children and their parents or grandparents. By these resisters stepping forward now, it will bring some pride to the younger generations. They’ll know that some people did try to fight back when they were placed in the internment camps.”
Panelists said a major step in the healing process would be the national Japanese American Citizens League’s admission that it made a mistake in the 1940s by urging internees to prove their loyalty to the United States by sacrificing their rights and by fighting in the military.
Agreeing with them was Clifford Uyeda, a past president of the national JACL who attended Tuesday’s forum.
“The JACL must admit the error,” he said. “It bothers me that it hasn’t done so yet.”
Dennis Hayashi, executive director of the national JACL in San Francisco, said the last time his organization addressed the issue was in 1990 when it drafted a resolution on the subject.
In the resolution, the JACL said it regretted any pain or bitterness caused by its failure to recognize the draft resisters as patriotic Americans. It also stated that loyalty can manifest itself in praiseworthy and admirable acts.
Kenji Taguma, a student at CSUS who helped organize Tuesday’s forum, said it is time that Japanese American draft resisters like Koshiyama and Emi were given a place in history.
“You have to admire these men, who were only in their teens and 20s, for taking the stand that they did,” he said.