Nisei Soldier Memorial Day


Annual commemoration introduced by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to honor Japanese Americans who died in the service of their country during World War II. The JACL decided to begin Nisei Soldier Memorial Day (NSMD) commemorations at their 1948 convention as part of a larger effort to celebrate the achievements of the Nisei soldiers. The date for the commemorations was set as October 30, the date chosen because because it was the anniversary of the "Rescue of the Lost Battalion," one of the most celebrated episodes in the history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The first NSMD in 1949 included large commemorations in Florence, Italy; Bruyeres, France; and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC as well as events across the U.S., ranging from Idaho Falls to Omaha to Los Angeles.[1] However, not all veterans agreed with the establishment of a separate event. In November 1949, the Seattle Nisei Veterans Committee passed a resolution asking the JACL to eliminate the event, claiming that "American ex-soldiers of this group desire no special 'Memorial Day,' no segregated observance; but desire only to participate wholeheartedly in the events of the day set aside for all soldiers of this nation."[2] An editorial in the Pacific Citizen later acknowledged that "Much criticism was leveled upon designation of this special anniversary day on grounds it constituted a 'segregated' memorial day," but pointed out that Japanese Americans still could participate in general Memorial Day commemorations and that anyone was welcome to take part in NSMD. "When the accident of color is no longer an important factor in the economic and social life of our country, then perhaps National Nisei Memorial day will no longer be necessary," it concluded.[3]

Though the JACL continued to push the event for the next few years, it seemed to never really catch on and the number of commemorations dwindled. By 1958, Nisei Soldier Memorial Day was no more.

Historian Ellen Wu has argued that the Nisei Soldier Memorial Day was part of the JACL's campaign to highlight the Nisei soldiers as part of its larger push to combat discrimination against Japanese Americans in the postwar era.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Wu, Ellen. The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Pacific Citizen, Oct. 22, 1949, p. 3, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19491022_003.jpg; Nov. 5, 1949, p 3, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19491105_003.jpg, both accessed on February 25, 2014.
  2. Ellen Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 88.
  3. Pacific Citizen, Oct. 21, 1950, p. 4, accessed on Feb. 25, 2014 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19501021_004.jpg.