LETTERS: JA ‘offended’ by ‘desecration’ of James Wakasa’s ‘final resting place’

Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent in response to the column entitled “The ‘desecration of sacred ground’ at Topaz” that appeared in the Aug. 19, 2021 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Dear Editor:

I have just learned they discovered the secretly buried James H. Wakasa memorial monument. Mr. Wakasa was a neighbor of our family in Block 36, Topaz concentration camp in Utah. Our address was Block 36, Barrack 6, Units C and D, his was Barrack 7, Unit D. We ate with him in our mess hall and used the common lavatory and the common facilities. I was there when he was murdered by (a) U.S. Army guard, April 11th, 1943. The actual spot of his death was kept unknown from us all these almost eighty years, due to oppression by camp authorities who forbid us to make a formal monument for him. His ashes and the thousand pound stone monument lay unknown and undisturbed all these years. This burial was carried out confidentially by his close friends.

My dear mother died at age 106 in 2012, still worried (about) his remains, never knowing of his monument.

Now 78 years later, the strong feelings of shame, guilt, and resentment return as I write this letter.

I am deeply offended we, Americans of Japanese ancestry, were denied the opportunity to witness, have input, and offer incense in the resurrection of Mr. Wakasa’s sacred gravesite. My emotions are raw with pain and regret, we were not present to express of our feelings of this unthinkable desecration of Mr. Wakasa’s final resting place. Yet, I was at Topaz that evening, 7:30 p.m., April 11th 1943 when Mr. Wakasa was shot without regard as an unsuspecting rodent in the desert. Today, I speak for my deceased parents and community at large. I shall stand tall in dignity and self respect. My prayers shall remain anew, to rewrite the wrongs of those despicable and insensitive and irrevers(i)ble unearthing of Wakasa’s sacred gravesite. Yes, we were voiceless then, we protested in silence then, but today, no more. I stand arm and arm with those still alive and for those long departed who too loved and honored Mr. James H. Wakasa.

My dear Okasan and many fellow prisoners at Topaz died, never knowing of this memorial to Mr. Wakasa and what eventually became the end of this mystery. I feel strongly this story should be known and shared by as many people as possible.

Toru Saito
Berkeley, Calif.

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