View Full Version : Star Trek actor returns to Japanese internment camp

John Lindsey
12th November 2003, 19:37
Star Trek actor George Takei returns to childhood Japanese internment camp in Arkansas


Associated Press Writer

ROHWER, Ark. - A cypress root harvested from an Arkansas swamp 60 years ago is one of the few mementoes George Takei has from his childhood at a World War II internment camp.

The gnarled cypress knee sits on the actor's desk at his Los Angeles home, reminding him of a part of his family's history that - until this month - he had revisited only in his mind.

"What it symbolizes for me is that my parents were able to survive by finding and creating things that were beautiful," Takei said while visiting a remote stretch of southeast Arkansas farmland where he and more than 8,500 other Japanese-Americans lived during the war.

Takei, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series and in six Star Trek movies, was 4 years old after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, when he his parents and two younger siblings were ordered from their Los Angeles home and taken by railroad under armed guard to Arkansas.

Six decades later, Takei drove alongside the same railroad tracks to visit the former Rohwer Relocation Center.

"My mother said the scariest part about that trip was the uncertainty," Takei said, glancing out a car window. "I remember my father telling us we were going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas."

Takei, 64, returned in part to bring awareness to an effort to preserve the history of the Arkansas camps by the Little Rock-based Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Japanese-American National Museum. Takei is chairman of the museum board.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the actor drew on his history and celebrity to fight discrimination against Arab-Americans by helping organize a candlelight vigil at the museum and a public radio forum.

"There were chilling echoes of World War II," he said.

But he praised leaders for working quickly to address the discrimination issue following the 9-11 attacks - something that didn't happen six decades ago in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

"It wasn't until I was a teenager that I started realizing what my family went through, and I began to ask questions. When I was 15 or 16, I had a conversation with my father that I would always regret. I asked him 'Why did you go into that camp like sheep?'," he said.

"He said 'Maybe you are right,' and left the room and closed the door."

More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent from the West Coast and Hawaii to 10 internment camps at the beginning of the war. Eight camps were in the West; two southeast Arkansas sites at Rohwer and Jerome were the only ones in the South. Together, the Arkansas sites housed more than 16,000 detainees.

Other well-known former internees include U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, artist Henry Sugimoto and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

The Takeis spent only a year in Arkansas. They were later sent to a higher security camp at Tule Lake, Calif., for detainees who, on loyalty questionnaires, said they would not take up arms in defense of the United States.

Takei recalled that his father later told him that he and his wife responded "No" to that question and to one that asked them to "foreswear loyalty to the emperor of Japan." Takei said his father was insulted by the assumption that his family was loyal to the emperor in the first place and "didn't want to grovel and give them his dignity."

At Tule Lake, Takei's mother learned that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, where her parents had returned to from the United States before the war.

His mother's sister and her infant child were killed in the blast. His grandparents survived, but it was months before the family learned their fate.

"My mother was torn with anxiety. I remember my father telling her that we had to assume they were all dead," Takei said.

Takei has returned to Tule Lake in the years since the war, but had visited the Arkansas camp only in his memories, until Sunday.

He recalled starting kindergarten at Rohwer and memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance while looking out on a barbed-wire fence.

"Now, I think about the irony of saying that line 'liberty and justice for all'," he said.

After the war, Takei's father rebuilt the family's laundry business and later became successful in real estate. Takei went to UCLA and studied theater. His younger sister became a teacher and his brother a doctor.

He credits his parents for putting aside bitterness and allowing their children to overcome their turbulent childhood experiences during the war.

Takei noted war reparations approved by Congress in 1988 for Japanese-Americans and a decision by former President Clinton to recognize some Japanese-American war veterans with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

"My father really believed in the ideals of a people's democracy and he understood that people are fallible," Takei said. "He also understood that the democratic system has the ability to correct and heal old wounds."

Joseph Svinth
13th November 2003, 02:13
To see some photos of judo in the camps, see http://jarda.cdlib.org . For additional background, see also http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/anthropology74/cet.htm .

As a point of interest, six camps were maintained until the end of the Korean War, and one (Tule Lake) was maintained until 1957. The law authorizing this was Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950, which authorized the arrest followed by detention of anyone suspected of conspiring to commit espionage or sabotage against the U.S. government.