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Payments to WWII Internees to Begin : Reparations: The budget agreement clears the way for the program. The oldest survivors will be the first to receive the $20,000 checks.

October 01, 1990|From Associated Press

SEATTLE — Frank Yatsu never thought he would live to see his government apologize for imprisoning him during World War II. But a check carrying that message should arrive in a few days--just before he turns 107.

"That's pretty good, I think," Yatsu said. "The American government treated us in a Christian way, and it's pretty good."

The government soon will start sending $20,000 checks to each of the surviving Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during the war. The last of the checks will be mailed in the federal government's fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 1992.

It was unclear exactly when the checks would go out, but officials said recently they hoped to begin issuing them in early October if White House and congressional budget negotiators reached agreement on a budget. That agreement was reached Sunday, and Congress approved a resolution to continue funding for federal agencies, averting furloughs and cuts that could have delayed issuing the checks.

Mary Grace Jennings, a spokeswoman for the federal Office of Redress Administration, said last week that officials hoped to have the first checks out by Oct. 9.

The office also has proposed that the checks be accompanied by a letter of apology signed by President Bush.

For many, the payments will do much to erase the shame of internment and the decades of bitterness that followed, said Cressey Nakagawa, president of the Japanese American Citizens League, which led the fight for the reparations.

"I think, in many instances, people will even frame the letter," Nakagawa said from his San Francisco office. "The checks will be consequential, but most meaningful will be the apology."

The government rounded up Japanese-Americans in 1942 after war broke out with Japan, distrusting their loyalty. German-Americans did not receive such treatment.

About 120,000 people were forced to abandon nearly all their possessions and were confined at 10 camps, most in remote inland areas of the West, and at scattered hospitals and sanitariums.

The tax-free checks will be distributed according to age, with Yatsu and 84 other centenarians getting them first.

Yatsu, whose birthday is Oct. 13, isn't the oldest. First in line are a woman in Phoenix and a man in Santa Monica, both 107, said Bob Bratt, administrator of the Redress Administration.

Yatsu and Harry Nakagawa, 100, are among five former internees cared for by Seattle Keiro, a Japanese community nursing home, who have lived more than a century. Both men remember the war years well.

Nakagawa, who immigrated to Seattle in 1905, had a successful grocery with his son when he and his family were sent to a camp in Minidoka, Ida. He said his landlady let him keep his possessions in the store's basement, but she died before his return and "I lost everything." He later worked in a hotel and private club in Seattle.

Yatsu, a teacher who immigrated to California in 1906, spent the war at an Arizona camp. Afterward, he made his way to Seattle, where he worked for a window company.

Yatsu said he would use his money to go live with a daughter in San Diego. Nakagawa said he would donate some to the Buddhist and Baptist churches.

Both, speaking in a mix of English and Japanese translated by a Seattle Keiro worker, said they were amazed and pleased the government acknowledged its wrong.

"It's a good thing. . . . Other American people think we were enemy people, and they no like," Yatsu said.

The payments were authorized by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, but $1.25 billion for the program wasn't allocated by Congress until last October. Congress approved $500 million for 25,000 payments in fiscal 1990, the same amount the following year and the remainder beginning in October, 1992.

That was based on estimates that about 65,000 internees were alive in 1988, but Bratt said his office had found about 70,000, nearly three-quarters of whom live in California.

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