Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Grant Ujifusa Interview II
Narrator: Grant Ujifusa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 2, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ugrant-02-0010

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TI: Before we get to the entitlement -- just getting the Reagan administration, or Ronald Reagan to sign this --

GU: Yeah.

TI: -- was a role that you played to help make this happen. Can you talk a little bit about that?

GU: Yeah. I can, but you have to be careful here because (though) it's truly the Japanese thing to say, anything in American politics is a group effort. As an Irish Catholic politician John Kennedy (said), "Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan." And, so, well, who got Reagan to sign the bill? Some of my left-wing friends said, The third world peoples rose up and forced Reagan to sign the bill." Reagan doesn't give a f___ about any third world person. Believe me. So how did it happen? Well, the way it happened was -- I was a book editor in New York, and one of my writers was the Governor of New Jersey, a liberal Republican named Tom Kean. Two of his ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence. He is a Brahmin. But, he's a lovely man. He's kinda like Spark Matsunaga. People like him because he genuinely likes people. When you say, "Oh, that son of a bitch is an asshole," whatever the opposite of that it, that's what Spark and Tom are. All right? So, I said geez, we haven't got any access (to Reagan). I'm gonna have to ask Tom even though it might violate my professional responsibility as his editor. And I called his aide (Steve Provost) and I (asked), "Do you think (he) can help?" And the next (day) Steve said he'd be happy to help. And Ronald Reagan was coming up from New Jersey to campaign --

TI: Just going back to that, is that pretty extraordinary that he would be willing to essentially stick his neck out --

GU: I don't think so.

TI: -- for you?

GU: I don't think so. It may have been for some people. But Tom is kind of an old Brahmin (like) an Eleanor Roosevelt Brahmin. But he loves (to go) the Lithuanian VFW (and eat) whatever they served at the Lithuanian VFW in New Jersey. He loved to be there. And so he said, "Yeah, well, Reagan is coming up to campaign for some State Assembly candidates, Republicans. And he's coming up" -- when did this happen? This was 1987, the fall. The election would have been in November. They have off year (elections in New Jersey). So, it's probably early October of '87. So he came up with Ken Duberstein, who was then his Chief of Staff, and they went around New Jersey and they campaigned for these guys. And in between one of these stops, or while they were riding around in (the) limousine, Tom said, hey, you know, I think you ought to look into this Japanese American redress thing, and maybe you ought to sign that bill. And (Reagan) says, "Well, Justice Department says no, and then they tell me that this is was a kind of a protective custody thing." And Tom says, "Oh, no, no, no. It (wasn't) that." (I later learned that S.I. Hayakawa was close to Ed Meese, who was Reagan's closest and oldest advisor. Hayakawa's influence was there, and so we had to beat Meese inside the Reagan White House.)

TI: When you say "protective custody," that the government was, was protecting Japanese Americans during --

GU: By moving them into these camps, they did it "for their own good." And that was Ronald Reagan's understanding. Okay? So, Tom gets back to me and he said, "Well, you gotta speak to that point. It was not." So I said, "Okay. Let me write some letters to you and if you can get 'em in to Reagan." We all knew in the Japanese American community that in 1946, when (Reagan) was a kind of anti-communist, left-winger, he was kind of a, kind of an ADA liberal in 1946, an anti-communist liberal, in Hollywood.

TI: This was Ronald Reagan?

GU: This is Ronald Reagan. He was a PR captain in the U.S. Army. They had this kid, probably twenty, named Kaz Matsuda, who's from Fountain Valley, California, (in) Orange County. Sort of agricultural land at that point. And his family was moved into Poston. And he came back in a box with a silver star on it. And before he died he told his family, "You know, if I don't come back alive I want to be buried in Fountain Valley." He's coming back in '46. His remains are coming back. And his sister had been back in Fountain Valley saying, "We'd like, my brother (said he wanted) to be buried in the Fountain Valley Cemetery." And the town fathers said, "I'm sorry, but we don't bury Japs here." So, Vinegar Joe Stilwell heard about this, and he says, "What the hell is goin' on out there?" So he got in an airplane and flew out there. And (he) said, "You sons of bitches, this guy's a hero. You're gonna have to let this kid be buried here and we're gonna make a big example of you sons of bitches." And they said, "Oh, we're sorry." And so Stillwell and the army PR people said, "We're gonna have Louise Albrighton" -- (a) movie star I'd never heard of -- "we're gonna have Ronald Reagan, we're gonna make, we're gonna make a whole big deal of it." So Ronald Reagan came to speak for Kaz's (interment), burial. His mother said, "I don't want the Silver Star. I don't want this Silver Star from Stilwell. You take away my farm, you put me in a camp in Arizona, you bring my son back in a box and you want to give me a Silver Star? You know you can do with that Silver Star." That's what she said. But she wouldn't use that kind of language. I use that kind of language. So they said, okay, well, maybe Mary, sister will accept it. So (she) did. And there was a photo of them accepting it in this little, extremely modest farm house. Ronald Reagan spoke at that. You know what he said: "The blood that has flowed into the sands," and so on.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.