Payment to Interned Japanese-Americans Gets Reagan's OKW. DALE NELSON , Associated Press
Aug. 10, 1988 9:46 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan signed a bill Wednesday providing $20,000 reparations to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, conceding that ''no payment can make up for those lost years.''
At least one family among the approximately 250 veterans of the internment camps who attended the eight-minute signing ceremony said no payment is necessary because of the opportunity they have enjoyed as Americans.
Reagan told the audience that tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans lived in internment camps ''not for a matter of weeks or months, but for three long years.''
The bill signed by the president provides for a $20,000 tax-free payment to each ofthe 60,000 survivors among the approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were interned.
''Yet no payment can make up for those lost years,'' Reagan said. ''So what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor, for here we admit a wrong.''
Dr. Walter Emori, 47, an arthritis specialist in Medford, Ore., speaking for himself and the other five members of the family who were interned, told a reporter earlier: ''I don't feel animosity, and I don't feel a sense that the country owes this to me.''
All six members of the family - now living in California, Georgia and Oregon - attended the signing ceremony to dramatize their intention to use the money to repay the country, in Emori's words, ''for the good that came out of the awful.''
The Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunged the United States into World War II.
Many Japanese-Americans lobbied for the legislation for years. It finally cleared Congress by a 257-156 vote in the House on Aug. 4.
Reagan originally objected to some features of the bill, saying it would be too costly, but he backed the final version. It calls for a trust fund of $1.2 billion, with appropriations in any one year limited to $500 million. Legislation providing the actual money must still be enacted.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the president always endorsed the purpose of the bill.
Asked whether the large number of Japanese-American voters in California, a crucial state in the forthcoming presidential election, was a factor in Reagan's decision to support the measure, Fitzwater said: ''No. That was not a factor in any way.''
The internment order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 required all people of Japanese ancestry living in California, Washington and Oregon and some in Hawaii to be relocated. It affected 77,000 U.S. citizens and 43,000 legal and illegal resident aliens. They were taken to camps in Western and Southern staes.
Susumu and Sumi Emori and their four children, then living on a potato farm south of Stockton, Calif., were taken to a camp in Rohwer, Ark.
''It was a real hard experience for us,'' said Walter Emori, who was 3 years old when the family was interned.
But, he added in an interview, ''I don't feel animosity, and I don't feel a sense that the country owes this to me. I don't feel that, and I think many Japanese-Americans don't. We see this as a healing process which says the country recognizes that a wrong was being done and in one small way perhaps is trying to make amends for this.''
''And we as a family would like to take this gesture the next step further and say we'd like to give this back to the country for the good that came out of the awful.''
For the Emori family, there has been a lot of good. After they left the camp, the Seventh-day Adventist Church gave the parents jobs at the church- affiliated Loma Linda University in California. They worked there until their retirement.
All four of the children attended Loma Linda. Walter went on to its medical school. His two sisters received master's degrees from its nursing school. One, Helen King, who was 7 when the family was interned, is now dean of the Loma Linda nursing school.
The other, Grace, who was 5, is a senior nursing employee at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Walter Emori's younger brother, David, who was 1, is in business in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Emori said family members haven't decided what to do with the $120,000 they will get, but they are considering applying it toward an endowed professorship at the university.
''One thing that makes some Americans feel a little uneasy about this bill is that the Japanese-Americans in this country have done exceptionally well both by way of education and by way of material things,'' Emori said.
''You can look at us as a segment of the American population and say, 'Why give them anything? They've done so well; I mean, they've made a tremendous go out of our society.''
The family's plan for use of the money, he said, is designed ''to honor our parents, to (thank) the church and especially the university for helping us with a job and with education, and, probably most important, to our country, to say something good about an awful time in our lives.''
Arrangements for the family to attend the signing ceremony were made by Dr. Gary Ross, government relations officer for the World Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.