February 19, 2009
On December 8, 1941, the day after Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, Cedric Shimo applied to join the United States army. Though American, his request was denied because of his Japanese ancestry. He tried again, this time with the Military Intelligence Service. They were looking for someone to translate Japanese, so they accepted.
Shimo attended basic training, but the day before graduation and his deployment to the front lines, he was kicked out. The reason is that he wanted to say goodbye to his mother, who was behind barbed wire at a Japanese Internment Camp in Manzanar California, considered a Western Defense Zone where no Japanese-Americans were allowed.
As a result, Shimo was eventually transferred to the 1800th Engineer General Service Battalion for the remainder of World War II. It was a diverse unit that consisted of German-Americans, Italian- Americans, and Japanese-Americans — anyone who had ancestry related to the Axis forces. They were not allowed to carry guns, just shovels. Their missions involved digging ditches, repairing bridges and patching roads.
By today’s standards, Shimo was a resister – someone who openly protested the imprisonment of Japanese-American families during World War II. Even now, he says he is proud to have served his country with a clear conscience.
To remember the 67th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 – the law signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which created the Japanese Internment Camps – the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program invites Smithsonian visitors to hear Shimo and three others share their stories. “The Japanese American Experience in Print” takes place at 6:30 p.m. this evening, Thursday, February 19, in the Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian.
The event features distinguished writers including David Mura, author of “Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire,” Kiyo Sato, author of the memoir, “Dandelion Through the Crack: The Sato Family Quest for the American Dream,” as well as Shirley Castelnuovo, author of “Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II,” who profiles Shimo in her book.
Established in 1997, the Asian Pacific American Program sponsors diverse programs that reflect the Asian and Pacific American experience. Current exhibitions includes “Barriers to Bridges,” an immigration-themed exhibit at the National Museum of American History, as well as “Japanese American Pioneers of the Jet Age” at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.
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