The Memorial Day service is held in front of the Ireito at Woodlawn Cemetery.

SANTA MONICA — This Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, marks 63 years since Japanese American communities in Los Angeles’ west side have gathered at the Ireito – memorial tower – at Woodlawn Cemetery to honor the area’s Issei pioneers and Nisei soldiers who died in World War II and the Korean War.

They are forebears who endured hardship and sacrifice in hopes of opportunities now enjoyed by our generation and future ones. The service is open to the public and is a combined Buddhist and Christian Memorial Day service beginning at 9 a.m. Woodlawn Cemetery is located in Santa Monica on the corner of 14th Street and Pico Boulevard.

In 1952, a group of Issei and Nisei within the Bay Cities area realized that persons of Japanese ancestry did not have a common site where they could gather and honor the deceased members of their communities on Memorial Day. There was a need to recognize and honor our Issei pioneers, war heroes and other predecessors of Japanese ancestry. A prospectus for building a monument for the unknown pioneers and predecessors of the Bay Cities area was adopted.

It took seven years to realize their dream of being able to honor those who made possible our acceptance into mainstream America.  On Nov. 22, 1959, on a cemetery site donated by the City of Santa Monica, the Ireito was dedicated.  Col. Carl F. White, U.S. Army; Japanese Consul General Yukio Hasumi; and Santa Monica Mayor Ben Barnard took part in the dedication ceremony. People of Japanese ancestry now had a common site where they could gather and pay a memorial tribute to their predecessors.

On Jan. 17, 1994, a temblor with a magnitude of 6.9 toppled and destroyed the monument. A new one was constructed and rededicated at the 35th Bay Cities Japanese Community Memorial Day Joint Service on May 30, 1994.

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