By Jessica Xiao, AsAmNews Contributor
Last Wednesday, on the 69th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation hosted a dedication ceremony for a new part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
For Nori Uyematsu, Wednesday morning brought back memories of the mountains in South Korea that he traversed during the Korean War.
The Wall of Remembrance, for which construction began in March 2021, features 43,808 names of the U.S. and Korean augmentees to the U.S. army who perished in the Korean War, etched across 100 granite panels. Sixty-seven countries allied with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) after North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950.
The dedication on Wednesday morning featured remarks by Korean Ambassador to the United States Cho Tae-Yong, Second Gentlemen Doug Emhoff, and others, performances by the U.S. Army Band and choir “Pershing’s Own,” and the singing of the national anthem by Miss America.
Uyematsu, 91, traveled with his caregiver and journalist Patti Hirahara from Anaheim, CA, on his own dime to attend the dedication. As far as he knows, he was the only Japanese American veteran of the Korean War present. Several Asian American veterans of the Vietnam War were also present.
Originally from Campbell, California, he and his family were displaced and incarcerated for three years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He says he was not as impacted by incarceration as his parents were – he was 11 years old at the time and remembers getting to meet other children.
“Lots of kids at the concentration camp were from the orphanage. If they even had ¼ Japanese blood, they were sent to concentration camps,” Uyematsu recalled.
But his family had painstakingly raised a berries farm, working from “dusk to dawn,” purchasing land under his uncle’s name (Japanese Americans were not allowed to own land), and lost their property.
“Empire Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and that’s when we were evicted from the West Coast,” he said.
After incarceration, they stayed in Utah, where Uyematsu says a Mormon farmer named Earl Anderson gave many Japanese Americans, including Uyematsu’s family, jobs on his farm.
Uyematsu decided to enlist in the army in January 1949, following high school graduation because he did not feel like there were other options available to him. At the time, they were still drafting for World War II. He was sent to South Korea during the Korean War and spent three years there, honorably discharged in July 1952.
Over 6,000 Japanese Americans served in the Korean War and 258 Japanese Americans perished during the war.
The dedication can be viewed in full here.
More of Nori Uyematsu’s story can be found in this oral history interview for “I am an American: Japanese Incarceration in a Time of Fear Exhibition” by Anaheim Library.