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Title: Gene Akutsu Interview II
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-03-0013

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TI: So I want to go back to the JACL ceremony. You talked about how it took them years of discussing, finally under, when the JACL president was a Sansei that this finally got passed. And so one of the things that came out of that was a resolution to acknowledge, having an actual public ceremony to acknowledge the resisters of conscience, of which you were one and you were there. So describe the event for me. What was that like?

GA: Well, it was quite a big event for the resisters, because now we finally got recognition, and that they, what we had hoped for had finally come true. So it was a big event for us, and they had all the dignitaries, I think the representative of the government, Japanese, his name was Honda, he was, gave one of the main speeches, and there was a judge, a Japanese judge who was up in... well, in the judicial system, and he was going to come and give a speech. So with all them giving the main speech -- oh, as well as also the author of the book Free to Die for America... for their... Free to Die...

TI: For Their Country.

GA: ...for Their Country. In fact, it's been so long, I've forgotten. [Laughs] But anyway, Eric Muller was there, and he also spoke, too. And we all wound up giving, oh, roughly, maybe ten to fifteen minute speech as to their experience, what they thought of the fifty years prior to the apology. And my story was all the trials and things I went through, and it gets to be kind of routine, but then a lot of the people didn't hear about it, and found out that what had gone, gone wrong, and then they found out, "Say, these resisters, they did go through a lot of their trouble." And, well, let me see. Was it Daniel Inouye was there? He wrote the forward in that book, Free to Die for Their Country, congratulating the resisters, said they were heroes as much as the soldiers who went out there because they fought their own battle. And I thought that was a real heart-touching comment that Daniel Inouye had made.

TI: And besides, in addition to Senator Inouye and his comments, were there any other speeches or comments, whether public or even personal, that you recall from that day that meant a lot to you?

GA: Yeah, I think there was a number of presidents in the JACL divisions, say, the eastern part of the country, the southern part. Anyway, they all spoke up and their comments were to our liking, it was real nice. And these people had relatives in the service, some of them, they had relatives that are dead due to the war, but they all felt that everybody was, had the privilege to speak their, do what they wanted to, that they felt comfortable in doing. And so they were all complimentary.

TI: And so when you think about, I guess you mentioned Eric Muller, Professor Muller from North Carolina, so he wrote a book that focused on this issue, you then had this event by the JACL. Has that made a difference in how the people perceive the resisters of conscience? Do you think in the last, so it's been... 2002, so the last five or six years, have you seen a difference in how the story of the draft resisters have been told and how people think about it?

GA: Well, I haven't really been confronted with this, but I feel that more and more people have realized what, why a lot of us are, myself, I did what I did. And they made comments that, "Oh, yeah, you were brave, you did what you thought was right." In fact, I was going golfing with some of the fellows, the vets, and they had brothers that were killed. But the one in particular that I used to go golfing with, we used to go, oh, I guess I went with him golfing for about ten, fifteen years. And that subject came up, and we were talking, and his comment was, "You did what you thought was right, and I did what was right, and I got nothing against you." And I thought that was real good, and my thoughts about that were the same thing, that everybody's privileged to think and do what they want, and the consequence? You gotta either suffer or be happy about it. And so we were together for a long time.

TI: So what I'm trying to understand is after it becomes more public, what the JACL did, Eric Muller's book about the draft resisters, do you find that more people are able to talk about this issue and just, and make those comments to you, that, "You did what you thought was right, I did what I thought was right," and it's come out more?

GA: Yes. Even to this day, I have people call me and say that they read about the book, and they were really surprised that anything like this happened. This is something that happened just yesterday, and this was a lady who was a freelance photographer, and she wanted to make a photo album about the resisters because she never heard, she's from Idaho. In fact, her parents were some forty, fifty miles away from Twin Falls. But she heard about this and read about it, and then somehow she got a hold of me and wanted to interview me, which was done yesterday. And the day before, she asked me to go out to McNeil Island where I was a resident for three years. So I agreed and we went out there two days ago, and took back a step in time to remember what had happened over in McNeil Island. A lot of it has changed, but then, still, the memory is deep in my mind that I wouldn't forget. (I'm looking forward to seeing her album.)

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.