By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga is best known for her work during the redress movement on the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC); the class-action lawsuit filed by the National Council on Japanese American Redress; and the coram nobis cases of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui.
Lesser known is the critical role Herzig Yoshinaga and her late husband, Jack Herzig, played after the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the redress bill that issued an apology and a token compensation to people of Japanese descent who had been imprisoned in U.S.-style concentration camps during World War II.
Work didn’t stop once the redress bill passed. There was the enormous task of informing former camp prisoners about how to apply for redress and then determining the eligibility of those who applied.
To this end, the U.S. government established the Office of Redress Administration (ORA) and hired Robert Bratt to head the new agency, which was to function for 10 years.
Bratt hired talented staff but he also needed assistance from those who were familiar with the camp files in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
There was no other more qualified, at the time, than the Herzigs, who had spent hundreds of hours poring over documents connected with Japanese Americans during World War II at NARA.
Bratt, along with two other ORA staff members, visited the Herzigs at their home and asked them to be consultants for the ORA, to which the Herzigs agreed.
The initial steps were easy. The Herzigs went to the final accountability roster, which each of the ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps had issued, listing the names of people who had been incarcerated there.
From there, the Herzigs went to the list of names compiled by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
However, human error accounted for a certain number of names being omitted from major camp lists. Some omissions occurred when births or deaths had not been recorded properly or when there were too many people going in and out at once at different times of the year from different camps.
In these instances, the Herzig had to become creative and find other documentation to confirm a person’s incarceration.
Additionally, the ORA and the Herzigs started getting inquiries from people who did not fit neatly into the main category of a former camp prisoner.
Some of these included:
• Nisei veterans, who had been serving in the military before Executive Order 9066 had been issued and had been prohibited from returning to the West Coast to assist their family into camp;
• So-called “voluntary evacuees,” who had moved out of the exclusion zone in an effort to avoid going into camp;
• Japanese Latin Americans who had been forcibly removed from Latin American countries and brought to the U.S. to be used in hostage exchanges between the U.S. and Japan;
• Japanese American railroad workers who had not been living on the West Coast but were fired from their jobs and had trouble finding other work to support their families.
Special Verification Cases
As more difficult redress cases came up, the Herzigs went from consultants to official staff members.
“Jack and I were asked to help on particularly difficult cases of those persons who had applied for redress but they could not find records associated with them ever having been in the camps,” said Herzig Yoshinaga.
These became known as the “special verification” cases.
The following are some of the unique cases the Herzigs worked on:
• Bingham, Utah Case — When Bratt started holding community forums across the country to educate the public on how to apply for redress, the Herzigs were invited to join Bratt on these trips. At a Gardena forum, Herzig Yoshinaga recalled meeting an Issei man who was farming in Bingham, Utah during the war. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, was picked up by the FBI and detained without charge at a jail in Salt Lake City for about six months. He asked Herzig Yoshinaga whether he would be eligible for redress.
“He was picked up but they could never charge him for anything, except that he was Japanese,” recalled Herzig Yoshinaga. “He was released finally but he never had to go into camp because he was in Utah [outside of the military exclusion zone], so there were no folders on him in the DOJ or the WRA files because he was not in the camps.”
Never one to give up, Herzig Yoshinaga, in her understated way, shared about keeping the man’s name in her head, while working on multiple other cases at the same time.
“I happened to look in a box of arrested people — the people that the FBI had arrested,” she said. “And while looking for other cases, I camp across this man’s name. This verified the story he had said, that he had been arrested in Bingham, went to a Salt Lake City jail, and then was released. The notes on this 3 x 5 card confirmed this.”
Herzig Yoshinaga’s discovery allowed this Issei man to become eligible for redress.
“He was very pleased to find out he was eligible for redress,” she said. “At that time, he was already something like 90 years old and he was not married, so he could use the help. He was made eligible for redress before he passed away.”
• Kante Matsue Case — Herzig Yoshinaga recalled being stumped on the Kante Matsue case for quite a while. “Despite all the different lists and rosters that they had, he was one of those people, who had applied for redress but whose record had to be located. We just couldn’t find anything under that name, but at one point, I saw a file that had a list of German, Italian and Japanese internees. The names were all separate. The Germans were on a separate list. The Italians were separate and so were the Japanese.
“I was thumbing through that, not looking for him particularly at that time because there were lots of other names I was searching for, but then, I came across this name, and it rang such a big bell — a gong (laughs).
“I thought wow, this looks like his name, so when I looked down the list, there was after his name something like 14 aliases that he had been using during his stay in the United States.
“He was an Issei. And at the time he was picked up, according to the records, he was studying as a medical student at John Hopkins University in Maryland. Well, we tracked down one of those folders, and of course, the name was not Kante Matsue. Kante Matsue was not his real name.”
Herzig Yoshinaga’s research uncovered that this man had skipped town after owing money for textbooks purchased at John Hopkins University and that he had also married a Caucasian woman but had gone on to marry another woman, without legally divorcing his first wife. It was around this time that the war broke out and the man was picked up by the FBI and sent to various DOJ camps.
“As I recall, I think at Kooskia (DOJ camp) and I can’t remember right now under which alias he was going under at that time, but he claimed he was a medical doctor when he got to Kooskia, so they assigned him in Kooskia as the camp doctor. He was apparently still a medical student but he claimed to be a doctor so I think I saw something about him being a camp doctor in the files.”
Herzig Yoshinaga said she forwarded the documentation to the ORA staff but is not sure if the man pursued his redress request. “I can’t imagine that the ORA would not have gotten in touch with him, saying that yes, we acknowledge that you were in the camps.’ However, I have no idea whether or not this gentleman decided to follow up on his request because who knows, he might have been happily married with a lot of children or grandchildren by that time, and he may not want his past history brought up to his family.”
• Mixed-Race Case — At a Los Angeles public forum, Herzig Yoshinaga recalled being approached by a woman who appeared white but was part Japanese. This woman’s mother had been Irish and her father Japanese. Although the woman had gone into camp, her brother, who was able to pass himself off as “white,” had protested entering camp and had moved out of the exclusion zone.
“I found the brother’s name on a list, along with other names of people who had objected to this exclusion program,” said Herzig Yoshinaga. “The sister asked me will her brother be eligible for redress. I told her Bob (Bratt) said he’ll look into it.
“I think he did become eligible because he was scheduled to go into the camps and he had objected. But this case brought up the issue of mixed-race children.”
Herzig Yoshinaga recalled getting incensed over reading documents on how the government dealt with mixed race children with Japanese ancestry. “It depended upon the circumstances of the family, whether or not the children of mixed family had to go into camp. If the mother was **hakujin** and she was not imbued with Japanese traits, that she would bring up her children as good Americans, not worshiping the emperor or Shintoism and all that, the children did not have to go into camp.
“But the group that sticks with me is written by Mr. (John) McCloy (assistant secretary of war). His belief was that if the children were to be contaminated by going into the camps with the parents and being exposed to Japanese ways and traditions, he felt it was better not to let them go into camp but they had to be supervised by democratic-thinking Americans. The word he used — contamination — just never left me. That’s the way so many white Americans felt about the Japanese at that time.”
• Louisiana Case — Although this case is not related to the ORA and had been brought to Herzig Yoshinaga’s attention before the redress bill passed, it is representative of the voluntary time and energy she spent to assist thousands of people.
During the early 1980s, she was contacted by a mixed-race man who was searching for his Japanese American father, whom he had not seen since the FBI took him away at the outbreak of the war. The man explained that his Caucasian mother and older brother had already passed away, so he had no surviving family member to ask for information.
“I could find no folder with the name of this man that he identified as his father, but just by luck, I happened to be at the State Department files one time, looking for something, and I came across this name. It was totally different from the name he had been using while he was married to this woman, but there was an a.k.a. (also known as) next to it, so I thought, uh huh.
“I thought wow! We all jump to conclusions or have theories about why did he change his name? Maybe he jumped ship, and to prevent from being found out, he adopted another name.
“This all happened in Louisiana, a place where very few Japanese were living at the time. I think, if my memory of the census serves me right, there were only about 47 people of Japanese descent in Louisiana in 1940.”
Herzig Yoshinaga was able to unearth documentation that confirmed that this Issei man had married a Caucasian woman and was arrested by the FBI soon after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This Issei man’s son — the man who called Herzig Yoshinaga seeking information about his father — was 9 years old at the time.
From the State Department files, she went to the provost marshal’s files and found that this Issei man had been sent to the Lordsburg and Santa Fe DOJ camps.
As Herzig Yoshinaga started to connect the dots, she went the extra mile and phoned one of the named plaintiffs in the NCJAR lawsuit. This man, a Buddhist priest, had been imprisoned at the Santa Fe DOJ camp during the war.
“I asked him if he might possibly remember this man but because at that time I had been referring to him by his alias, this man said no, he did not remember someone by that name. But when I told him the circumstances that the son had relayed to me, that they had lived in Louisiana, that he had a hakujin wife and so forth, this man said, ‘You know, there was a man, who was very, very sick. I’m sure it was at Lordsburg. And in his delirium, in his feverish state, he kept saying, ‘Betty, Betty.’
“Betty was the name the Issei man used to call his wife, and there were not many Nisei named Betty in Japanese circles in the 1930s and 1940s, so I said, ‘Yeah, it’s very possible that was him.’”
However, Herzig Yoshinaga didn’t stop here. She not only confirmed what had happened to this Issei man, but she was also able to get a copy of his death certificate and locate the cemetery in Texas where he was buried.
Herzig Yoshinaga phoned the son, who was working in Michigan at the time.
“When I let the son know, he got so excited. Right away, he drove all the way from Michigan to Texas. I told him what I thought his father’s real name was, and the son looked all over the cemetery and found his father’s grave. And right next to that was another Japanese man’s grave. It was in the potter’s field section (a place for burial of unknown or indigent persons). His name was in Japanese and in English. The son took a photograph of it and sent a copy to me.
“All those years, he had no idea what had happened to his father. There was at least closure for him.”
Although the ORA closed in 1989, Herzig Yoshinaga still talks about unfinished redress business, particularly with the Japanese Latin Americans, who had not received equitable reparations, despite enduring not only forced removal from their homes but also language barriers and then being labeled “illegal aliens” by the U.S. government, which had brought them to this country against their will.
“The Japanese Latin Americans deserve better,” she said. “The Japanese Latin Americans, who accepted the ruling in the Mochizuki settlement, were $5,000 and an apology.
“But $5,000 is only one-fourth of what we received, and you can argue that they suffered just as much, if not more than we did. And even the apology letter, I understand, doesn’t refer to our government taking these people from Peru or other Latin American countries and shipping them here to be used in hostage exchanges.
“I read earlier this year that (plaintiff) Art Shibayama had a hearing before the Organization of American States. I hope the OAS will rule in favor of Art Shibayama so that the Japanese Latin Americans won’t continue to be treated like an afterthought and they’ll receive the justice they deserve.”