By HARRY KAJIHARA (Special to the Rafu)
Based on the recommendations given in the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians created by President Carter in 1981, the first JACL redress House bill was prepared by Congressman Norman Mineta and introduced in the House by Congressman Jim Wright of Texas as HR 4110 in October 1983.
The companion Senate bill authored by Sen. Spark Matsunaga was introduced soon thereafter. The chairmen of the subcommittees that these bills were directed to were dead set against redress. Both bills died in subcommittees. Huge disappointment one!
The House bill, HR 442, was introduced in April 1985 by now Majority Leader Jim Wright. The “442” carried a symbolic significance. It tied together the 442 Regimental Combat Team rescuing the Texas “Lost Battalion.” Sen. Matsunaga introduced the companion bill, SR 1053, in May 1985. Both subcommittee chairs were not supportive of the bills and both bills died. Huge disappointment two!
Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts was elevated to chair of the Subcommittee on Administrative Law and supported the Civil Liberties Act of 1987. Meanwhile, astronaut-senator John Glenn became subcommittee chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee and supported the companion Senate redress bill submitted again by Sen. Matsunaga with 75 co-sponsors.
The conditions in Congress appeared favorable for passage of the redress bill on the third try, but the initial leaks emanating out of the White House were not good. The nation was in the midst of a recession and any bill requiring outlay of money would likely meet a negative response from the White House.
To provide supportive factors for redress, JACL needed to reach the White House. But who? Grant Ujifusa, the Legislative Education Committee (LEC) strategy chair, was the person to attempt making contact.
A non-JACLer and a Sansei, Ujifusa was raised in Wyoming. He never experienced incarceration. However, he was deeply troubled by the injustice borne by the people of Japanese ancestry and believed his background would enable him to contribute to the JA cause.
Grant happened to be the co-author of the publication titled “The Almanac of American Politics.” This book gave the biography of each U.S. representative and senator. The almanac was referred to as the “bible of congresspeople.” I read in U.S. News and World Report that while heated arguments raged on the House floor, some representatives, tilting back in their seats with ankles crossed, were spotted reading the almanac, no doubt about themselves.
This almanac publication gave Grant ready access to all congresspeople. He was able to spend time with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Alan Simpson, Bob Dole, Henry Hyde and others, seeking support for redress.
Immediate past governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean authored a book titled “The Politics of Inclusion.” Kean was a moderate Republican, winning election in 1985 by 71 percent in a Democratic state. Consequently, President Reagan, a Republican, sought Kean’s counsel.
Employed at Random House, Grant was tasked to edit Kean’s book. He became acquainted with the governor and asked him speak to Reagan about the impending redress bill. In October 1987, during Reagan’s campaign stopover in New Jersey, Kean supposedly raised the subject of redress with Reagan. A week later, Kean contacted Grant, indicating that Reagan was interested and seemed to know about the internment.
In mid-February 1988, both Kean and Reagan’s deputy chief of staff, Ken Duberstein, informed Grant that Reagan was going to sign the redress bill.
There is one more true story to tell in this multiyear redress saga. Sgt. Kazuo Masuda was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. He was killed in combat in Italy on Aug. 27, 1944. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. However, the local community denied burial of Kazuo in the area cemetery.
Hearing about this prejudicial treatment inflicted upon the Masudas, the Army sent a contingent of high-ranking officers led by Gen. Joseph W. “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell to formally present the Distinguished Service Cross to Masuda’s family members. Included in this group was — guess who? — none other than Capt. Ronald Reagan, who read the now famous statement, “Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, I, representing all American families, want to thank you for what your son did.”
It is reported that President Reagan told his aide that he remembered this statement he made at an event held some 45 years earlier, and he referenced this in the redress signing ceremony. So you see, all the planets and the stars were finally in alignment.
On Aug. 10, 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Hitoshi Kajihara served as National JACL president from 1986 to 1988.