By SUE MISAO, Northwest Asian Weekly
SEATTLE — Gordon Hirabayashi’s heroic journey began at the University of Washington, where he was attending classes when the U.S. government ordered him and thousands of other Americans, singled out for their Japanese heritage, to obey curfews and be imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. He refused.
“Ancestry is not a crime,” he later explained in an oral history to Roger Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cincinnati. Daniels was on hand to share what he knew of Hirabayashi as a young man.
Student, prisoner, activist, professor, and, finally, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The symbol of Hirabayashi’s heroism found a permanent home on Feb. 22, when his family donated his Medal of Freedom to the University of Washington. He had been given the award by President Obama in 2012, four months after his death.
His family gathered at the UW for a day-long symposium called “Courage in Action: A Symposium on the Life and Legacy of Gordon K. Hirabayashi,” during which more than 200 people watched as UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce accepted the medal from Hirabayashi’s family.
“He would be pleased to have it at the University of Washington,” said Hirabayashi’s widow, Susan Carnahan, who was joined by Gordon’s son Jay Hirabayashi and nephew Lane Hirabayashi in sharing details about Gordon’s life and legacy.
Judge Mary Schroeder, who in 1987 authored the opinion in Hirabayashi v. United States that vacated Gordon Hirabayashi’s conviction, called him courageous and gutsy. “He was thoroughly American,” she said.