Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Topaz: A remembrance of dark days past

Rod Tatsuno to present his fatherís film of life in a Japanese internment camp

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Rod Tatsuno, 2, right, poses with his brother Sheldon in Topaz, Utah, in 1944. Photos courtesy of Tatsuno family

On Feb. 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, authorizing the in-ternment of American citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese immigrants living on the West Coast of the United States. Fewer than 10 weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up, stripped of their rights, property, belongings and jobs—and in some cases separated from their families—and confined in 10 in-land detention camps in six Western states and Arkan-sas.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for the internment on be-half of the U.S. government. The legislation noted that the government's actions in 1942 were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political lead-ership."

The internment of Japanese-American citizens in those camps is considered a dark stain on American history. One of the internment camps was named To-paz, located near Delta, Utah. Topaz, like other camps, has been referred to as a "war relocation center," a "relocation camp," a "relocation center," an "intern-ment camp" and a "concentration camp," and the con-troversy over which term is most appropriate contin-ues to the present day. It was originally called the Cen-tral Utah Relocation Center, a name abandoned when it was realized that the acronym was pronounced "curse." It was briefly named Delta for the closest town until the Mormon residents of that community ob-jected to their town's being associated with a "prison for the innocent." Topaz was named for a nearby mountain and eventually was home to 9,000 Japanese-Americans. It covered 31 square miles, most of it used for agriculture, and was the fifth largest community in Utah at the time.

Among its citizens/internees were David Tatsuno and his entire family. A devoted family man who had been (and would be again after the war) a prominent businessman and civic leader in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tatsuno was also an avid home-movie buff. Things like movie cameras, still cameras and short-wave radios were not allowed in the internment camps, so Tatsuno left his movie camera with a friend before leaving the Bay Area. Tatsuno was put in charge of the camp's cooperative where his superior, Walter Henderick, was both a sympathetic man and a home-movie buff. Breaking the law, Henderick ar-ranged for Tatsuno to receive his camera in Topaz.

The rest, truly, is history, American history as re-corded by one who lived it. Tatsuno's film, "Topaz," is the only 8mm film inducted into the Library of Con-gress' National Film Archives besides the Abraham Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

On Thursday, June 9, at 6 p.m., Rod Tatsuno, a long-time Ketchum resident and member of the Sun Valley Ski and Snowboard School, will present and talk about his father's film at the Ketchum Community Library. Rod Tatsuno was born in a horse stall at the Tanforan Racetrack near San Francisco, where Japanese intern-ees were first taken in 1942. His first years of life were in Topaz and he has a unique, experiential perspective on the subject and significance of his

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