All memorials tell a story of loss, usually of lives. We’ve all seen them, from crosses on the side of the highway marking the scene of a fatal traffic accident to large-scale national memorials such as the Vietnam War Memorial. Today I visited a memorial that also represented loss, but more often the loss of country, possessions, home and dignity than of life. This memorial commemorates the forced evacuation in 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, of residents of Japanese descent who lived on Bainbridge Island, WA, .
The memorial’s creators situated it to become part of the history, hiding it in the trees where the land meets the old ferry dock that represented the first stage in the journey for “227 men, women and children who were removed from the Island by soldiers armed with fixed bayonets.” Ultimately 276 people were forced off the island (49 left earlier). The destination of the 227 was the Manzanar internment camp in the desert between California and Nevada, a far cry from the lush forests of the island they had called home.
The path that led them to the water is now represented by a 276-foot curving stone wall. The memorial recognizes each person, grouped by family. Five terracotta friezes like the one above tell part of their collective story.
I was fortunate enough to visit the memorial with two Japanese American friends, one of whom had family that suffered through this experience. She found their names clustered together on the winding wall and shared stories from those who spent their teenage years in Manzanar and then Minidoka, a camp built later in Idaho.
The creators of this memorial hope visitors will take away the message written many times here and in the local museum: “Nidoto Nai Yoni, Let it not happen again.”