|War and History Poetry posted September 3, 2008|
Contest Entry: Dialogue Poem: America - WWII
I Heard America Call My Name
by Mrs. KT
Please read Author's Notes before reading this offering. Please read aloud as well.
I chose to write a Dialogue Poem. Dialogue poems address controversy and differing opinions. These poems can express conflict between people in opposing situations such as a Hiroshima bomb victim and a U.S. Air Force pilot flying the plane that dropped the bomb. Or dialogue poems can reflect commonalities between people who might not appear to have obvious similarities such as a Salvadoran immigrant and an African American who migrated from the South.
In my offering, "I Heard America Call My Name," the narrators are both men: one is a young American serviceman who enlisted in the Army Air Corps and headed to the Philippines where he fought, was captured, and summarily died at the hands of his Japanese captors. (This narrator is based upon the circumstances experienced by my uncle, Sargeant William A. Kenel). The second narrator is also an American - but of Japanese lineage - a Nisei - or second generation, Japanese American who lived in California when America entered the war following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. He speaks of that time and of his experiences as a prisoner in the Manzanar War Relocation Camp.
The quote, "There is still beauty in a sunrise and a sunset," was written to my grandparents, Anton and Lucy Kenel, by their son and my uncle, Sargent William A. Kenel, who was indeed a POW of the Japanese during WWII and suffered the atrocities rendered in this offering. He wrote that statement on a Red Cross card that he was allowed to send to my grandparents during his internment in Cabanatuan. Since prisoners dared not write of their infirmities, this was his way of letting his loved ones know he still had his eyesight. My father remembers my grandfather saying, "At least we know Bodie can still see."
Background and Helpful Terms:
Issei ( first generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in North America and South America to specify the Japanese people first to immigrate. Their children born in the new country are referred to as nisei (second generation), and their grandchildren are sansei (third generation). (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three" is "ichi, ni, san.") Thus the Nisei and Sensi are American citizens; over two-thirds of the Japanese interred in American relocation camps during World War II were Nissei.
There has been much discussion over what to call the internment camps. The WRA officially called them "War Relocation Centers." Manzanar, for instance, was officially known as the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because of this, the National Park Service has chosen to use "relocation center" in referring to the camps. Some historians and scholars, as well as former internees, object to this wording, noting that the internees were literally imprisoned, such that "relocation" becomes a euphemism.
Another widely used name for the American camps is "internment camp". This phrase is also potentially misleading, as the United States Department of Justice operated separate camps that were officially called "internment camps" in which some Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.
"Concentration camp" is the most controversial descriptor of the camps. This term is criticized for suggesting that the Japanese American experience was analogous to the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps. For this reason, National Park Service officials have attempted to avoid the term. Nonetheless, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes each referred to the American camps as "concentration camps." At the time. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower also utilized the phrase "concentration camps."
Recognizing the controversy over the terminology, in 1971, when the Manzanar Committee applied to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to have Manzanar designated as a California State Historical Landmark, it was proposed that both "relocation center" and "concentration camp" be used in the wording of the plaque for the landmark. Some Owens Valley residents vehemently opposed the use of "concentration camp", and it took a year of discussion and negotiation before both terms were accepted and included on the plaque.
Despite internment, the Unites States eventually allowed Japanese-Americans to fight in WWII in the European theater.
The 442nd Infantry, formerly the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army, was an Asian American unit composed of mostly Japanese Americans who fought in Europe during the Second World War. The families of many of its 17,000 soldiers were subject to internment. The 442nd was a self-sufficient fighting force, and fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The unit became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the United States Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients, earning the nickname "The Purple Heart Battalion."
In 1944, two and a half years after signing Executive Order 9066, fourth-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt rescinded the order. The last internment camp was closed by the end of 1945.
Government Apologies and Reparations
Forced into confinement by the United States, 5,766 Nisei ultimately renounced their American citizenship. In 1968, nearly two dozen years after the camps were closed, the government began reparations to Japanese Americans for property they had lost.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed legislation which awarded formal payments of $20,000 each to the surviving internees 60,000 in all. This same year, formal apologies were also issued by the government of Canada to Japanese Canadian survivors, who were each repaid the sum of $21,000 Canadian dollars.
Other Groups in the Camps
While Japanese-Americans comprised the overwhelming majority of those in the camps, thousands of Americans of German, Italian, and other European descent were also forced to relocate there. Many more were classified as "enemy aliens" and subject to increased restrictions. As of 2004, the U.S. Government has made no formal apology or reparations to those affected.
Regarding the surrender of American and Allied Forces on Bataan by Major General Edward P. King:
On 11 March 1942, by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacArthur left for Australia. Wainwright was appointed to succeed MacArthur as General of the Armies of the Philippines while King became the Commanding General of the Philippine-American forces on the Bataan Peninsula. At the time, King was the commander of the artillery.
After months of fighting the invading Japanese Army and with food and medicine exhausted, King was forced to surrender his troops on 9 April 1942. (This day is commemorated in the Philippines as Araw ng Kagitingan "Day of Valor") A combined American and Filipino force of over 75,000 surrendered; this was the largest surrender of a military force in American history. Wainwright and his men, numbering 10,000, held on to Corregidor until they too were forced to surrender on 6 May 1942.
King spent three and half years as a captive of the Japanese and was often mistreated by them because of his rank.
For Further Reading:
An excellent reference that chronicles the Japanese Internment Camps can be found at www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/index.html
or go to google.com and search for Japanese Internment Camps; you will find a plethora of information regarding a part of American history that must never be forgotten... diane kenel-truelove 9/1/08
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