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‘Train of Tears' remembered

Internment train event marks community reconciliation efforts

For Yuri (Kawachi) Hasegawa, Saturday’s memorial event at the site of the May 13, 1942, Japanese community internment evacuation train embarkation marked a symbolic return to an event from her high school years that all of us hope we will never have to face.

That was the day she and her family, along with the entire Hood River Japanese American community, were removed from their homes and relocated into internment camps.

“There are very few of us left,” said Hasegawa. “It is nice that they are doing something. I wish others could have been here.”

Hasegawa was in high school at the time of the relocation. Her letters home to a former teacher, Vienna Annala, were featured in a recent three-part News series on the internment, on May 9. She completed her schooling during her three-year internment.

“It should have happened years ago,” confirmed Kaz (Kiyokawa) Sumoge, who also attended the May 12 unveiling ceremony with her husband, Tom.

The Sumoges and Hasegawa were joined by several other train-evacuees at the memorial event. Family members of the trio and others of Japanese ancestry in the community joined a crowd of nearly 100 who came to give respect to those who endured the trauma.

In fact, 700 Hood River residents of Japanese ancestry suffered evacuation and internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They joined more than 120,000 others from four western states in what would become a three-year incarceration, far from their homes.

While some non-Japanese community members fought the deportation of their Japanese-American neighbors, others stood by or encouraged the federal decision. The larger community has recently begun to take action toward reconciliation as a community.

On Saturday, May 12, an inscribed and illustrated plaque acknowledging the May 13, 1942, deportation of the Hood River Japanese community was installed at the Mount Hood Railroad station in recognition of those families affected by the injustice.

Ron Kaufman, MHRR general manager, invited those survivors present and their families, along with other community members, to board a 1912 train car, brought into the station to honor the occasion and provide a “step-back-in-time” opportunity. Event attendees could walk on board and perhaps imagine more concretely the experience of those taking that frightful journey into the unknown in 1942.

Members of the Hood River Japanese-American community who rode that original train were in attendance for the event, while board members of The History Museum of Hood River County conducted the ceremony to unveil the plaque. More than 100 people attended the unveiling.

The Gorge Community Foundation-Gorham Babson Family Fund purchased the plaque at the behest of longtime orchardist Sydney Babson. Babson opposed the internment and later instructed his heirs to find some way to honor his fellow orchardists and community members who he felt were dealt a grave injustice. Babson’s daughter Sydney Babson Blaine spoke briefly at the unveiling.

Jean Harmon served as emcee for the unveiling on behalf of The History Museum of Hood River County, who coordinated the event. Several community members toured the heritage train car following the ceremony.

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