Honoring courage

Law school leads effort to award honorary degrees to Japanese Americans forced from school during WWII

After learning in a college class about the mass incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, Terry Matsuda stormed into her parents' house and demanded to know if they had willingly gone to camp.

"I was so angry," she recalls. "I said, 'Why didn't you protest?'"

Her mother, Uri (Satow) Matsuda, tried to calm her daughter down.

Uri Matsuda

Now 87, Uri Matsuda clearly recalls her internment.

"We were told we had to go to camp to be a loyal citizen," said Uri Matsuda, whose education at Seattle University was cut short when she was ordered to report for internment. "You just didn't question it. It was something you had to do. Today I think kids would say, 'No I don't want to go.'"

Doing what she was told, Matsuda went to the Puyallup Assembly Center and was sent to the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho. Nearly 70 years later, she and other Japanese American students whose educations were unjustly interrupted have received honorary degrees from Seattle University. President Stephen Sundborg, S.J, and the Board of Trustees acted on a request drafted by Professor Lori Bannai, associate director of Seattle University School of Law's Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, that was broadly supported by Dean Mark Niles, the law faculty and the larger university community.

"These individuals, who were our students, were required by federal order to leave our community as a result of the fear, racial hatred and hostility that prevailed in the wake of Pearl Harbor," Sundborg said. "We honor these former students to recognize their courage and sacrifice, to address the injustice that occurred, and with hope that this recognition contributes to the healing process."

Niles said it is only right that a university committed to equal justice under the law honor these students. The law school - which is home to the Korematsu Center named for a man who took his fight against the Japanese American incarceration to the U.S. Supreme Court - was proud to support the initiative.

"These students were torn from our community as a result of one of the most sweeping deprivations of civil rights in modern times," Niles said. "In moving forward to live productive, often heroic lives, they represent the power of the human spirit to survive and thrive in the face of great adversity."

Bannai said recognizing the wrong done to these students and presenting the degrees they would have received is an important part of the healing process..

"While these students suffered grievous losses, they endured and survived, and most were able to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and rebuild," said Bannai, whose own parents were incarcerated during the war and who was one of the attorneys who represented Fred Korematsu in successfully reopening his case in 1983.


"These students were torn from our community as a result of one of the most sweeping deprivations of civil rights in modern times," Niles said. "In moving forward to live productive, often heroic lives, they represent the power of the human spirit to survive and thrive in the face of great adversity."
Dean Mark Niles

In addition to Bannai and the Korematsu Center, the law school has several other ties to the issue of the Japanese American incarceration. Professor Margaret Chon, the Donald and Lynda Horowitz Chair for the Pursuit of Justice, is the co-author of "Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment," the only text that provides a legal curriculum examining the Japanese American internment during World War II and the successful redress movement of the 1980s. Law school librarian Kerry-Fitzgerald completed extensive research to locate the honorees and their relatives.

The awarding of the honorary degrees allowed for conversations to begin anew about the incarceration and what it meant - and what it means for civil liberties.

Matsuda recalls people being sent to prison for refusing to report to camp.

"We kind of looked down on them, that they were being disloyal," she said. "But really they were standing up for their rights."

Sharon Sakamoto, a 1965 graduate of Seattle University and a 1984 graduate of the law school, worked on the reopening of Gordon Hirabayashi's wartime internment case when she was a law student. She was born at the Minidoka camp in Idaho.

"Years later, we know it was such a trampling of civil rights and human rights," said Sakamoto, who was one of the founders of the Asian Bar Association of Washington. "I'm grateful to the university and the law school. It means tons to everyone who goes for justice, who goes for right and goes for truth."

Dreams deferred

Uri (Satow) Matsuda had dreams of being a doctor. Her mother and younger brother had returned to Japan to take care of an ill family member, and she made the difficult decision to stay in Seattle by herself.

"I loved my mother, and I thought about going to Japan with her," she recalled. "But at 18, I wanted to stay and finish school with my class."

She couldn't predict that a short time later, her whole life would change and that the family would remain separated for decades.

"I really wanted to be a doctor," she said. "After my mother left, I knew I couldn't do it alone, so I thought of the next best thing: I'll become a nurse."

After graduating from Broadway High School, she enrolled in Seattle College's five-year bachelor's/registered nurse program.

"I never expected a war to break out," she said. "I was working at Providence when we got the word."

There were strict orders about where Japanese Americans could go, she remembers.

"I couldn't cross 12th Avenue, so the school had to send my tests to Providence," she said.

She was on the last bus to the Puyallup Assembly Center and later went to Minidoka.

"They called it evacuation, but really you were scheduled to leave," she said from a lounge at Seattle Keiro Nursing Home. "What they called camp was actually prison."

Now 87, she remembers details and shares her story with a sense of humor that takes away some of the sting of painful memories. Unlike most, Matsuda went to camp alone, without a family. They didn't know where to house a single woman, but she was eventually paired with a roommate.

"They handed us a bag and you had to stuff it with hay," she said. "That was the mattress. They built so-called cabins, but it was a horse stall."

They went days or weeks without showers, and when they finally had them, they were cold. She remembers a soldier walking back and forth above the high walls surrounding the camp. He seemed friendly, and one day she and some other girls joked with him about what would happen if they set a foot underneath the gate.

"He said, 'I'll shoot it,'" Matsuda recalls. "That's when you really found out you're not living in a camp. You're not free and you better watch what the heck you say."

Uri and Frank Matsuda

Frank and Uri Matsuda met at the Minidoka Internment Camp, where she worked as a nurse and he was an ambulance driver.

Though the conditions were bleak, she said she was never afraid, and there were bright spots, such as meeting a young Frank Matsuda, who left camp to serve in the military. On the advice of her teachers, she brought her blue and white nurse's training uniform with her. That enabled her to work at the camp hospital and keep up on her nursing skills. After a time, internees were allowed to apply to leave for school or work, and she started writing to hospitals to see if she could find another place away from the West Coast to continue her education.

"I thought staying there was not doing me any good," she said. "I wrote and wrote and wrote."

She was accepted to St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, Ill., where the German nuns were extremely strict and made the students' lives difficult.

"I was bound and determined to finish," she said.

She worked at Wesley Memorial Hospital, which was affiliated with Northwestern University, and was elected head nurse in the ear, nose and throat area. Frank returned from military service after serving in the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team and receiving a silver star, and moved to Chicago.

They were married in 1949 and moved back to Seattle, where she worked nights in the newborn nursery at Providence while caring for their three children. They lost their youngest daughter to cancer when she was a teenager.

When the Matsudas received their redress money from the government in the late '80s, she finally was able to go to Japan to visit her mother and brother, who she hadn't seen since they left Seattle before the war. She said she never forgot her younger brother calling out to her from the boat that he didn't want to leave. "I didn't think it was going to be 45 years before I saw them again," she said.

Two of her close friends from childhood and nursing school, Madeleine (Iwata) Uyehara and Caroline (Kondo) Taniguchi, were among those recognized with honorary degrees. Both of them were able to complete their schooling in Colorado when they were forced to leave Seattle University. Uyehara has passed away, but Matsuda has stayed in touch for more than 70 years with Taniguchi, who lived next door when they were growing up and now lives in California.

Grateful for a chance

Taniguchi was a student at Seattle College and working at Providence Hospital when the exclusion orders were issued. Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr had offered to accept Japanese Americans at the University of Colorado, and she was one of the few Seattle College students allowed to continue their nursing education there.

She recalls leaving Seattle on a train with classmate Madeleine Iwata.

"Madeleine and I shared an upper berth," she said. "I couldn't sleep for two nights, but we made it to Denver."

Both felt fortunate for the opportunity.

Caroline Taniguchi

Caroline Taniguchi had to leave Seattle College, but was able to continue her education in Colorado.

"I didn't have to go to camp. I felt very lucky, but I felt kind of sorry for my girlfriends who ended up in camp," she said. "I was very grateful to the governor of Colorado because he accepted us. It was a very good nursing school. We had excellent training."

Though she went to Colorado, her parents were forced to leave their rented home in Seattle and sent to camp.

"All their furnishings they had to give away or just leave," she said. "It was hard for them they. They went through a lot, but we all survived, thank goodness."

After completing school, she moved to Chicago to be near her sister, who had married and moved there before the war. She stopped on the way and picked up her parents, who had moved to Indiana after they were released from camp.

"I found a job right away," she said. "Chicago was a wonderful place to be living after the war. Jobs were plentiful, and the people were wonderful. I will never forget Chicago. A lot of people went back to Seattle, but my folks were very happy to be in Chicago because they had jobs and we were close to each other."

She was a nurse for 13 years before becoming a medical records administrator, which she did until she retired. In Chicago, she met her husband, George, and had a son, David. After retirement, she and George moved to Hawaii, where they lived until his death in 2007. She moved to Sunnyvale, Calif., to be close to her son and grandchildren.

Taniguchi said she was thrilled to hear from Bannai and to reconnect with others related to the honorary degree project. She has heard from Madeleine's son and shared stories of his late mother.

"I was amazed at the things he didn't know," she said. "It was nice to be in touch with him."

"It was very gratifying to hear that I was getting an honorary degree, but I didn't really do anything to deserve it," she said. "I was just lucky to be at Seattle College when the war broke out."

Others had to abandon their educations for a while, including Thomas T. Yamauchi.

"He was anxious to continue his schooling after camp," said his widow, Anne. "He was very ambitious.

He resumed his education at Gonzaga then moved to Detroit, where his family had relocated, and enrolled at University of Detroit. His education again was put on hold when was drafted. He left for basic training with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Army sent him to engineering school at the University of North Carolina, but he returned to Detroit, where he was finally able to complete his bachelor's degree.

There, he and his longtime love, Anne, finally married and started a family. Tom and Anne returned to Seattle, where Tom earned a master's degree at the University of Washington and became a top manager on Boeing's lunar orbiter project. He later worked as vice president of engineering for the Northrup Aircraft Corp. in Hawthorne, Calif. He died in 1990.

His wife is grateful that the university has recognized him.

"It's a nice thing for the university to do. He would be proud."

Justice for all

Yosh Nakagawa

Yosh Nakagawa holds up the exclusion orders that were issued directing all Japanese Americans on the West Coast to report for camp.

Beyond the degrees, Matsuda and the others are grateful for the chance to talk about the injustice of the incarceration and the importance of fighting for civil rights.

Leading up to the awards, faculty, students and staff from across the university participated in a teach-in, raising the awareness about the injustices nearly seven decades ago.

"This brings relevance to our work for civil liberties," said Karen Korematsu, who spoke at the teach-in and showed a documentary about her father, Fred. Fred Korematsu traveled the country, speaking out against discrimination, especially after 9-11 and the anti-Muslim and Arab sentiments it set off.

"As lawyers, we are particularly called to fight this kind of injustice," Bannai said. "This is not just about Japanese Americans. It is about protecting civil liberties and equality, particularly in times of national stress."

Dale Watanabe, the international student advisor for the university who helped organize many of the events surrounding the honorary degrees, points out that some international students face more governmental scrutiny than others, just because of where they are from.

Yosh Nakagawa, who was interned at Minidoka, spoke at the teach-in about his experience.

"History tends to allow you to take time to see what really happened," Nakagawa said.

During World War II or today, he said it's not people of another race or color or creed that pose a danger.

"The threat is ignorance," he said

Matsuda, who has shared her experiences and gave an oral history to undergraduate students serving as Korematsu Center fellows, said it has been gratifying for her to open up about her experiences, years after that explosive argument with her daughter.

"When you're young, you have all these ideas and dreams that you could do anything," she said. "It's hard to live with it. When I was raising my children I just didn't talk about. I hope my children or grandchildren never go through anything like it."

Read more about all the honorees and the internment.

By Katherine Hedland Hansen. Photos by Marcus Donner

-Summer 2011