Memorial Day Service at Woodlawn Cemetery

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Kenji Koda speaks in front of the ireito during Memorial Day ceremonies at Woodlawn Cemetery in 2002. (VJCC)

Kenji Koda speaks in front of the ireito during Memorial Day ceremonies at Woodlawn Cemetery in 2002. (VJCC)

The 57th annual Memorial Day Service at Woodlawn Cemetery, hosted by the Venice Japanese Community Center , Santa Monica Nikkeijin Kai and West Los Angeles Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, will be held on Monday, May 30.

This Memorial Day marks 57 years since Japanese American communities in Los Angeles’ west side have gathered at the ireito (慰霊塔) – memorial tower – to honor the area’s Issei pioneers and Nisei soldiers who died in World War II and the Korean War. These forebears endured hardship and sacrifice in hopes of opportunities now enjoyed by current and future generations.

The combined Buddhist and Christian service begins at 9 a.m. and is open to the public. Woodlawn Cemetery is located in Santa Monica on the corner of 14th Street and Pico Boulevard.

In 1952, a group of Issei and Nisei in the Bay Cities area realized that persons of Japanese ancestry did not have a common site where they could gather and honor the deceased members of their communities on Memorial Day. There was a need to recognize and honor pioneers, war heroes and other predecessors of Japanese ancestry. A prospectus for building a monument was adopted.

It took seven years to realize their dream of being able to honor those who made possible Japanese Americans’ acceptance into mainstream America. On Nov. 22, 1959, on a cemetery site donated by the City of Santa Monica, the ireito was dedicated. Among the dignitaries taking part in the ceremony were Col. Carl F. White, U.S. Army; Japanese Consul General Yukio Hasumi; and Santa Monica Mayor Ben Barnard.

On Jan. 17, 1994, a temblor with a magnitude of 6.9 toppled and destroyed the monument. A new one was constructed and rededicated at the 35th Bay Cities Japanese Community Memorial Day Joint Service on May 30, 1994.

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