‘Healing Monument:’ Memorial Day ceremony unveils monument to Japanese-American veterans

May 28, 2011

Starting on Monday, Memorial Day, the Walk of Honor is on the move at Idlewilde Cemetery.

The Japanese-Anerican Memorial pays tribute to local citizens who served in the military and died in service or came back to the mid-Columbia to live.

"We're pretty excited. We have a big Memorial Day planned," said Dennis Leonard, commander of Hood River American Legion, which each year stages the Memorial Day ceremony at Idlewilde.

This year the 11 a.m. observance brings the unveiling of the new memorial stone honoring 140 Japanese-American soldiers.

Here is Monday's schedule:

The service will open with the national anthem played by the HRVHS band, followed by an opening welcome and a prayer. Nick Kirby will read "The Ragged Old Flag" and Dana Branson will sing.

Presentation of flowers happens between 11:25-11:35, followed by the HRVHS band and the poem "In Flanders Field."

At about 11:45 a.m., Niko Yasui will present the story of Pvt. Frank Hachiya, a Hood River valley native who gave his life in service during World War II. Completing the service is an address by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

Yasui's presentation is a reprise of his role in last year's Cemetery Tales, in which actors do graveside presentations portraying people buried at Idlewilde.

The dark marble Japanese-American memorial will stand on a short pedestal just northeast of the flagpole at the Walk of Honor and Scattered Ashes Memorial. After Memorial Day, the rest of the Walk of Honor will be torn up and expanded.

"The whole concept started with a bench," Leonard said. But its purpose grew as Leonard and Idlewilde sexton Bob Huskey worked together in the past five years to create a physical honor for the Japanese-American veteran.

The stone acknowledges a past wrong while enveloping a wider community of veterans.

"We started with Hood River and expanded it to the mid-Columbia," Leonard said.

Idlewilde and American Legion worked with local families and Japanese-American Citizens League to create the list.

Currently there are 70 names on each side of the marker, but Huskey said the stone was designed to accommodate about 20 more on each side. Huskey said he learned of approximately 20 more names this spring, shortly before the stone was to go for engraving at Oregon Memorial in Hillsboro.

"We got to the point where we had to get it ready for this year's Memorial Day. More names will be on it in future observances," Huskey said. "We've already received plenty of calls from people who want their loved ones' names included," he said.

"We've had amazing response," Leonard said. "We're finding out that people are finding out about this in all kind of places. We didn't tell them; they came to us."

Leonard said he was inspired by the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Wall, reflective panels of stone that list the names of those who died in that war. In the Hood River stone he sees the same kind of potential:

"I think this will be a healing monument for a lot of people," he said

The stone started as a plan to install a park bench to honor the 16 Japanese-American men whose names were removed from the American Legion wall of honor in World War II, an event that still causes hurt 70 years later. It fulfills a goal of Leonard's since the 1980s; he said that while he had good personal relations with members of the Japanese-American community of the Hood River Valley, his affiliation with American Legion stymied his earlier efforts to reach out. Then, in 2006, Huskey was hired as Idlewilde sexton.

"When I started working here five years ago I said, 'Let's stop talking about it and do it'," Huskey said. He began talking with members of the local Japanese-American community and saw that "the emotions are just as heavy" today as they were years ago.

But Huskey kept talking to local families about his idea.

Leonard said, "If not for Bob, it wouldn't have happened." Huskey credits the support from the Japanese-American community He added the moral and financial support of the Hood River Historical Society and "folks opening up their checkbooks."

Huskey said the erecting of the stone is phase one of a redesign and expansion of the Walk of Honor, created in 2000 to provide a place for families to remember their loved ones who served in the miltary.

"We have the bid out and expect to start work shortly after Memorial Day. When the project is done in late summer, the Walk of Honor will be three times larger, formed in an oval with the western tip at the flagpole and main memorial column, both of which will remain as they are. Everything else, including the central walkway, plantings, and existing name bricks, will be torn out and reinstalled. Planting areas will be added for those who wish to put in rose bush next to a memorial brick.

"We want to create a stage," Huskey said. "We want people to use Idlewilde Cemetery for more than just burials."

About 1,000 veterans are buried in Idlewilde, and by Monday Leonard and Huskey hope to have a miniature flag placed at each of those gravesites.

"If we missed someone, call us. That's the only way we get the veterans' list up to date," Huskey said. The Idlewilde number is 541-386-2599.

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