CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will recognize at its June 15 commencement ceremony the 42 former students of Japanese ancestry who were forced to leave school during World War II because of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. Many ended up in internment camps.

Most of these former students since have died. But several will return to campus and many others – both living and deceased – will be represented by family members during the OSU ceremony, where they will receive their long-overdue honorary degrees. Commencement begins at 1 p.m. in Reser Stadium and will be televised live on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

OSU President Ed Ray says public recognition of the sacrifices these students made is overdue.

“It is a great privilege for all of us at Oregon State University to honor our former students with their degrees,” Ray said. “A great wrong was done to them and it is never too late to do the right thing. More importantly, we should use the memory of this sad and unconscionable chapter of our history to strengthen our resolve to stand up for each and every member of our community when we are tested, as we surely will be in the future.”

The impetus for granting honorary degrees to former students of many Oregon colleges and universities came from two OSU students. Andy Kiyuna and Joel Fischer played key roles in pushing the idea for such action into a law, and state representatives Tina Kotek of Portland and Brian Clem of Salem co-sponsored the bill. Clem is an OSU alumnus and as a student, served as president of the Associated Students of Oregon State University.

In May of 2007, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed Oregon House Bill 2823 into law, granting honorary college and university degrees to former students of Japanese ancestry who were displaced by the war.

“I think that it’s really a great thing that this became a law,” said Fischer, who was a legislative aide to Kotek and will receive his own degree at the OSU commencement. “Not just so that the schools can honor (the detainees) but so that the entire state can.”

Those receiving honorary degrees at OSU’s commencement will be:

• Noboru Endow

• Raymond Hashitani (deceased)

• Roy Hashitani (deceased)

• Shigeru Hongo (deceased)

• Kate Iwasaki (deceased)

• Jack Kato (deceased)

• Masao Kinoshita (deceased)

• Kay Kiyokawa • Taro Miura • Kay Nakagiri • Tom Namba (deceased) • Jack Nomi • Todd Tadao Okita (deceased) • Lena Kageyama Omori (deceased) • Tommy Ouchida • Frank Saito (deceased) • Carl Somekawa • Aiko Sumoge (deceased) • Mabel Sadako Takashima (deceased) • Edward Ko Yada (deceased) • Mary Takao Yoshida • Jack Yoshihara

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the roundup of 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage – 3,500 of whom were from Oregon – to one of 10 internment camps. The camps were overcrowded and provided poor living conditions. According to a 1943 report published by the War Relocation Authority, Japanese Americans were housed in "tarpaper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind."

Coal was hard to come by, and internees slept under as many blankets as they were allotted. Food was rationed out at an expense of 48 cents per internee, and served by fellow internees in a mess hall of 250-300 people.

Eventually, as many as a half-dozen of the students returned to Oregon State and received their degrees, but most of them never received the opportunity to participate in commencement.

A mere two months before Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, many of the affected students at Oregon State – almost all of whom were Japanese Americans – composed, signed and sent a letter to then OSU President F.A. Gilfillan. Below is the text of that letter.

In view of the existence of a formal state of war between the United States and the Japanese Empire, we the undersigned American citizens of Japanese ancestry desire to express to you, our College President, our unswerving loyalty to our country, the United States of America, and to all her institutions.

We have found friends, peace of mind and inspiration here at Oregon State. It is our desire to continue our normal program subject to the new duties of citizenship imposed by war. Furthermore we shall endeavor to transmit to our parents a greater realization of the duties of citizenship through our associations with them, some of whom share the joys of citizenship in our great country, only through us, their American born sons and daughters.

We will deeply appreciate any opportunity to prove our mettle and our devotion to the College and to our State and Nation. We hope that the trial of this supreme national test will prove a unifying and enlightening influence upon all Americans and their resident relatives from foreign lands.

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Kent Kuo,