President Obama hails Hirabayashi’s courage in defying wartime incarceration

POSTHUMOUSLY HONORED — U.S. President Barack Obama (above right) takes the hand of Susan Carnahan, the widow of Gordon Hirabayashi (left) who defied the incarceration order for Japanese Americans during World War II, at the White House on May 29. Obama posthumously awarded Hirabayashi the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award. Kyodo News photo

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — U.S. President Barack Obama on May 29 hailed the courage of Gordon Hirabayashi for defying the incarceration order for Japanese Americans during World War II as he posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award.

In a ceremony at the White House, Obama said that Hirabayashi, as a student at the University of Washington, was “one of only three Japanese Americans to defy the executive order that forced thousands of families to leave their homes, their jobs, and their civil rights behind and move to internment camps during World War II.”

“Gordon Hirabayashi knew what it was like to stand alone … And this country is better off because of citizens like him who are willing to stand up,” Obama said.

Hirabayashi was jailed for his defiance. Although he took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, he was convicted in 1943. In 1987, however, he won a ruling that the incarceration was illegal.

Hirabayashi died in January at age 93. Susan Carnahan received the award on behalf of her husband at the ceremony.

Jay Hirabayashi, his 65-year-old son, said he is “really pleased that my father’s history is being recognized,” albeit after his death.

Among other recipients were American folk singer Bob Dylan and Madeleine Albright, who became the first female U.S. secretary of state in 1997.

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