April 1, 2003 - From the April, 2003 issue

Sen. Inouye's Groundbreaking Comments For New Center For The Preservation Of Democracy

The new National Center for the Preservation of Democracy promises to be an inspirational addition to the downtown landscape in Los Angeles, both for its design (Levin & Associates) and its programming. TPR is pleased to present these remarks by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye eloquently spoken March 28th at the groudbreaking for the National Center at the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles.

My fellow Americans and ladies and gentlemen. During the final days of June and the early days of July in the year 1776, a great American patriot sat down to jot down a few words. Those few words became the immortal words that formed the basis of our democracy. In the first paragraph, you will find 32 words, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

However, sadly, while he pondered over those words and wrote them down, he was being served by his slaves-his African slaves. About 90 years later in the lovely rolling hills of Pennsylvania, in a place called Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, another great American, the President of the United States said, "This nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." And yet it took 90 years for the Congress of the United States finally to decide that African Americans were entitled to vote freely, without intimidation, without fear, and that they should be able to go to non-segregated schools.

I cite these milestones in our history just to suggest that our democracy is a very fragile concept. It is also evolutionary. It is changing and it depends on how we change it-it could be for the better, it could be for the worse. The building that you see behind me was a temple of love, of brotherhood and understanding. And, if you passed by this place many years ago, you would have heard soft chants and the sweet aroma of incense. But on December 7, 1941 everything changed. Suddenly this place became the assembly area for men and women and children, young and old, who looked like the pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor because they were about to be shipped out and begin a journey to one of ten concentration camps. This also served as a warehouse for the property of these men and women who left. And for years following, this place was a shell.

In 1992, it became the first increment of the museum. Today, it will become The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. From temple of love to the National Center. It will tell the story of the men who assembled here, young men, who were sent off to these camps, but yet volunteered to serve their country that imprisoned them. After the war, it was declared that the regiment that served them, the combat team that served them, was the most decorated in the history of the United States. Twenty-two Medals of Honor, fifty-two Distinguished Service Crosses, and one battalion had so many Purple Hearts that it became known forever as the Purple Heart Battalion.

It will also tell the story of the glory of the United States because, after many years, this country acknowledged that in 1942 they made a very bad mistake. They made a horrible constitutional mistake by sending innocent men and women in to concentration camps, and they apologized. When you think about it, I doubt if you could ever find any other country on this globe that has ever acknowledged a wrong in its past, acknowledged that and apologized for it. That was a proud moment for all of us. But this center will also tell the story of African Americans, grandsons and great grandsons of slaves, who served in a segregated fighter pilots' squadron. Their mission was to protect bombers during World War II. They were so good, so talented that they never lost a bomber. Only one squadron can make that claim. Every bomber they protected got home.

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Many of us had the privilege of serving with the 92nd Second Division, a division made up of African Americans, who fought under the most disagreeable conditions. Imagine having to go to a colored unlisted club, or colored officers' club. That was in the American army. Nevertheless, they served bravely and courageously, and, as a matter of personal footnote, I believe I'm standing here because of the 92nd. I received seventeen transfusions after my injury and on each bottle it was the direction of that time to have the name, the rank, and the unit. All the bottles had 92nd Division, so I have seventeen pints of African American blood and I think I've done pretty well.

This center will also tell the story of Hispanic Americans who served in World War II in France and also in Korea. A whole regiment of them who did exceedingly well. And there were two regiments of Philippine Americans-an untold story, a story of great courage. They were left behind when General MacArthur went to Australia. But they continued serving in the Philippine islands as guerilla fighters. They were decimated, but they served our country. This center will be a place you will learn about these patriots, but it also will tell you that not all patriots have uniforms on.

Schoolteachers who teach their children to expand their minds and to think bravely are patriots. Firemen and policemen who protect us twenty-four hours a day, they are patriots. Men who work in the fields, in the factories, and in the shops to keep our economy moving, they are patriots. Doctors and scientists who commit their lives to keeping us healthy, they are patriots. And I think we can all say to ourselves, we who are gathered here today are patriots because we believe in this center. We know that here teachers will be taught how to teach democracy. Children will come in and learn and, who knows, fifty years from now something may have happened. The great words of Jefferson and Lincoln may become a reality, that all men are created equal.

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