For Americans of Japanese Ancestry, the history of WWII begins with memorable dates that “live in infamy,” including December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor) and February 19, 1942 (Executive Order 9066). After that, any dates of significance during WWII seem to get lost in the blur of chaos, confusion and tragic injustice of the forced removal and incarceration. That said, almost 80 years ago the editorial staff of the Gila News-Courier, the camp newspaper at the Gila River Incarceration Camp, declared that there is a date that should be remembered as the first sign of hope for Japanese Americans — and that is January 28, 1943. That is the day that the U.S. government lifted the ban on persons of Japanese ancestry from serving in the military. As a result, an estimated 33,000 Nisei proudly served during WWII, about 18,000 in the 442nd and 6,000 as part of the MIS. Sadly, over 800 died in the service of their country.
In February 1946, President Truman sent a message to the first postwar convention of the JACL to pay tribute to the Nisei soldiers. “Their service is a credit not only to their race and to America, but to the finest qualities in human nature.” When the 442nd returned from overseas in July 1946, Truman told the veterans, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice—and you have won.” With the 80th anniversary of January 28 upon us, I wanted to share the historic editorial from the Gila News-Courier.
Significance of Jan. 28, 1943
On Thursday, Jan. 28, came news that the War Department had lifted its ban on the enlistment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in the United States Army — as a part of the larger program which will enable Nisei to make their proper contribution toward winning the war through deployment in war production as well as military service.
To Nisei and Issei who have accepted America as their home, Thursday was a significant day. It opened new vistas of hope to lack-luster eyes.
It was near assurance that talk of exportation on the West Coast would come to nothing. It will take the wind out of the sails of the outspoken critics of the evacuees. It will give firmer ground for public relations work throughout the nation for the WRA and various organizations to back their convictions.
Significant was the mention of employment in war production. There are many Nisei even now thusly employed. With a statement from the War Department, the industrial plants can now draw upon a relatively untapped source of manpower with less trepidation.
The evacuees are aware that the move to accept Nisei in the army and in war industry is not a panacea for their ills. The restoration of rights, which would not have been so bitterly protested, were it not so valuable, will take time. It will be a slow step-by-step process, at least, for the duration. But the first important decision in the right direction has been taken–a first pronouncement made by a powerful government official. – J. N.
Source: Editorial, Gila News-Courier, January 30, 1943, pg 2 LINK